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Deputy President William Ruto's visit to Kisii on September 9, 2020 was marred with violence.

Fifth Estate

If not checked, political rallies may become COVID ‘biological bombs’

The decline in COVID-19 infections in the last few weeks could be an indicator the country is finally flattening the curve of the pandemic whose devastating economic and social outcomes will be felt for a long time.  

While this may come as a big relief to Kenyans, there is no room for complacency as the fight against the pandemic is far from won. It is imperative that we continue to strictly adhere to preventive health guidelines to avert a possible resurgence of the virus.   

Unfortunately, a care-free attitude especially among the youth is becoming the norm. Nowadays, people are walking around in public without face masks oblivious of the health dangers to which they are exposing themselves and others.  

Physical and social distancing rules are being violated with impunity at public gatherings especially the notoriously crowded political rallies witnessed in recent weeks.

This is happening even after medical experts warn of a potential second wave of infections if we continue disregarding Covid-19 preventive measures.

Kenyans should learn from countries that are experiencing a second deadly wave of Covid-19 that gains made in taming the pandemic can be easily reversed. For example, the British government recently tightened Covid-19 restrictions amid a surge in new infections and mounting fears that the young could be infecting the old and elderly. Among the new measures was the introduction of health marshals to enforce social distancing in public spaces.

Other countries in Europe have similarly re-imposed strict health guidelines due to a surge in new infections even after appearing to have tamed the initial deadly wave that left thousands of their citizens dead.

Austria has warned of a “second wave” as new daily infections approach 1,000. France recently reported 10,000 new cases in one day which is close to the figures in April when infections hit a peak.  

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Malta, a small country in the Mediterranean region, recently introduced tough new measures to contain a resurgent wave of infections despite having completely flattened the curve in July. A few weeks ago, Malta witnessed a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections after lifting a ban on public gatherings and allowing resumption of inbound flights.

The point here is that Kenya could follow a similar trajectory if health and social restrictions especially the ban on public gatherings are not strictly enforced. The biggest culprits are politicians traversing the country addressing crowded rallies. If not checked, the political class could take the country down a dangerous path.

A second wave of infections would only force the government to impose tighter containment measures with further devastating impact on the economy. The youth who are the majority of those attending these rallies will be the biggest losers in such a scenario. Worse still, they could infect their parents and the elderly people in their communities.

Tougher containment rules will only aggravate the negative social and economic impact of the pandemic witnessed since March with the loss of more jobs, businesses and livelihoods.  

One wonders what the heightened political campaigns are meant to achieve when the General Election is two years away.  The campaigns are in stark contrast to the suffering many Kenyans continue to endure especially the economic meltdown triggered by the pandemic.

Sadly, some of the rallies are choreographed as youth empowerment forums but in actual sense have no concrete solutions to the myriad problems facing our youth, and are only meant to satiate political egos and hoodwink young people with false promises.  Of even greater concern is that political rallies and other crowded public gatherings can easily become what are known as ‘super spreader events’ for several reasons.  

First, there is no physical distancing thus increasing risk of person-to-person transmission of the virus in such crowded settings.

Second, transmission risk is enhanced when people sing or shout at such rallies in close proximity to each other and are not wearing masks. Third, contact tracing is impossible when people don’t even know those around them when attending such gatherings.   

It should be remembered that one of the reasons Italy became one of the deadliest global epicenters of the disease was a super-spreader event now identified as the Champions League match in Milan between Atalanta and Valencia in February this year.

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Dubbed “Game Zero” the match was described as a ‘biological bomb’ and attended by over 40,000 fans. Atalanta, a team from the Italian province of Bergamo, beat the visiting Valencia team 4-1. Majority of the fans in the stadium supported Atalanta and it is the ensuing celebrations that Italian health authorities believe strongly contributed to the rapid spread of Covid-19 in the northern part of the country.

In the days that followed, one-third of the Valencia team had tested positive for Covid-19. In the weeks following, 7,000 people in Bergamo had tested positive and more than 1,000 had died of the virus.

Thankfully in our case, the State has approved a phased resumption of sporting activities in the country, given the high risk of such events turning into Covid-19 super-spreaders.

But allowing political rallies to continue without strict adherence to preventive health and safety measures is tantamount to creating Covid 19 ‘biological bombs’ that will fuel a second wave of the pandemic thus undermining the economic recovery prospects many Kenyans have been yearning for.

Mr. Murumba is CEO, Impulso Kenya Limited



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