Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta has eased a range of Covid-19 restrictions, but reminds citizens that a return to one of Africa’s strictest lockdowns is possible in the event of a second wave.
Bars and eateries will be allowed to resume the sale of alcohol and remain open until 10pm while religious gatherings and funerals have seen capacity restrictions partially lifted.
The nationwide dawn-to-dusk curfew will continue for another 60 days, though the window has been reduced from 11pm to 4am.
Explaining the move, Kenyatta said the percentage of positive tests had fallen from 13% in June to 4.4% in September, which is less than the World Health Organization’s 5% threshold for lifting restrictions.
The president attributed the slow decline in cases to the “civic duty” displayed by Kenyan citizens and quick advances in health infrastructure.
Kenya now has over 300 intensive care beds throughout the whole of the country, compared to just eight at the start of the pandemic.
“In this period, we have installed more medical equipment than has ever happened since independence,” he says.
He also paid tribute to nationwide efforts to observe Covid-19 protocols, calling Kenyans the “first line of defense” against the virus.
At the same time, the president warned of cautionary tales elsewhere and made it clear that his government would continue its strict approach.
“The greatest danger is at the moment of victory,” he says.
“If we have won the battle against Covid-19, we have not yet won the war. The possibility of a second wave is real.”
Despite expectations to ease measures, Kenyatta has continued with school closures until possibly 2021.
Businesses, however, have welcomed the news due to the increase in operating hours.
“Bars, churches, taxi businesses and other informal sector jobs are set to boost liquidity in the Kenyan economy unlike during the old 9pm to 4am curfew,” says Sam Wakoba, CEO of Moran Media.
The government is also continuing with regulation changes to boost the economy, like reductions in VAT and income tax.
The Central Bank of Kenya expects the country to grow at a revised rate of 2.3% this year, driven by increased agricultural exports due to favourable rains.
This World Bank projects a lower growth of 1.5% as a result of the massive disruption to the aviation and tourism sectors.
While the lifting of most restrictions will breathe life into the damaged economy, a return to a more severe lockdown is still possible.
“As far as I give these directives, I underscore the need to adhere to the protocols, to keep the gains we have made,” Kenyatta says.
“I will not hesitate to escalate any measures in the event cases rise again.”