Kenya tightens restrictions amid a spike of COVID-19 deaths

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A nurse, left, prepares a shot of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative, from a portable cold storage box, center, in Machakos, Kenya, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. AstraZeneca's repeated missteps in reporting vaccine data coupled with a blood clot scare could do lasting damage to the credibility of a shot that is the linchpin in the global strategy to stop the coronavirus pandemic, potentially even undermining vaccine confidence more broadly, experts say. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

NAIROBI – With Kenya's COVID-19 cases and deaths surging, President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced tightened restrictions in five of the most affected counties.

The new restrictions have been imposed in the country's capital Nairobi and the three urban counties surrounding it, plus Nakuru, a major transit city.

“A third wave of COVID-19 is at hand in Kenya," said Kenyatta in a nationally televised address. "The death rate is devastating by all measures, and the stress the pandemic is placing on our health system is unparalleled.”

The country, with a population of 53 million people, has a cumulative total of 126,170 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including more than 2,000 deaths.

“Between January and February three people died every day from COVID. In March 2021, the number has gone up to seven every day, the highest since this pandemic hit us,” said Kenyatta.

Kenya's 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has more than doubled over the past two weeks from 1.02 new cases per 100,000 people on March 11 to 2.29 new cases per 100,000 people on March 25, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country's rate of deaths has quadrupled, with the 7-day rolling average of daily deaths surging from 0.01 deaths per 100,000 people on March 11 to 0.04 deaths per 100,000 people on March 25.

Kenyatta urged those eligible for the first round of vaccinations to get the jab so that “we can save ourselves and the country."

“I am personally convinced that the cost of not acting now will be far greater," he said Friday as he and his wife received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at State House, his official residence in Nairobi.

On March 3 Kenya received 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. It was the first batch from the global COVAX initiative that was created to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines.

The government said the vaccines will be administered to some 400,000 medical workers and the rest will go to other frontline workers such as teachers and police officers.

However, medical workers and other Kenyans have not been getting the vaccinations in large numbers, according to health experts.

In recent weeks many Kenyans have shown signs of relaxing the safety measures by not wearing masks in their neighborhoods and some bars and nightclubs operating past the curfew hours.

But the deaths of three media personalities have highlighted the dangers of the disease. And many Kenyans have seen a video circulating on social media of a man crying as his father dies the in back of a car because a hospital was full with COVID-19 patients and could not admit him.

In the five affected counties, Kenyatta has ordered a curfew to start two hours earlier from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. and all movement into out of the counties must stop immediately until further notice. Kenyatta has also banned all public gatherings and in-person meetings of whatever nature in the counties. He said restaurants must only serve takeaway orders.