Feature: COVID-19 disrupts Kenya’s serene rural social life

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NAIROBI, July 10 (Xinhua) — As he readies his wife and three children to travel to the rural area in Busia, western Kenya, where they will stay for the rest of the year, Johnson Okwaro knows that they are going to a completely changed environment thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Okwaro is sending them upcountry to ease his burden, having lost his job at a hotel in Nairobi, the east African nation’s capital.

“They are traveling on Sunday and once they reach there, they must adhere to all safety guidelines announced by the Ministry of Health to protect themselves and people there, in particular my elderly parents,” he said.

Since they are traveling from Nairobi, one of the COVID-19 hotspots, they would be expected to sanitize at the entrance once they reach home.

“I have also agreed with my parents that there would be no physical greetings and they will isolate at my home for two weeks before they interact with them and other relatives though our houses are in the same compound,” he said.

Okwaro observed that he has explained to his parents and his wife the measures so that they do not misconstrue them.

When his family was there in December 2019, it was welcomed with song and dance and they spent hours at his parents’ home before retreating to his. But that is all now gone.

The new containment measures are being taken after the government lifted a partial lockdown in Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa.

The measures, crucial in the battle against the disease, have disrupted the serene life in rural Kenya, which is highly social unlike in towns.

It is a new culture in villages across the east African nation as neighbors stay away from each other, grandparents keep off their grandchildren, social events remain scarce and visitors are unwelcomed.

Before the pandemic, in rural areas, unlike in towns, visitors were freely welcomed and they would pop in anytime. Not anymore as anyone visiting is increasingly seen as a carrier of COVID-19.

“I visited my father on Wednesday in Imenti, central Kenya, and the first thing that greeted me at the main gate was a can of water and soap. For the first time, I felt lost but it is necessary to save lives,” said journalist Jean Wanjuki.

She did not hug or physically greet her parents and they had lunch in the open to maintain the 1.5-meter physical distance rule.

“I was happy to see them after months of lockdown in Nairobi but the whole visit made me feel like a stranger home. I don’t think I will visit soon unless the disease is contained,” she said.

Kenya’s rural areas host a majority of elderly people, which the Ministry of Health has identified as one of the most vulnerable groups.

The ministry has discouraged citizens from traveling to the rural areas from Nairobi and Mombasa to avoid the risk of spreading the disease to the vulnerable.

But with many Kenyans having lost their jobs or sources of incomes leading to constrained lives, and schools closed until next year, most urban families are sending their children, and some even spouses, to the rural areas.

It is one way of cushioning themselves from tough effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenya’s cabinet minister for health, Mutahi Kagwe, has discouraged the practice noting that it would lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“Please don’t go to the rural areas from Nairobi because you will take the disease to your elderly parents. But if you must, follow all the containment measures and take to them sanitizers and masks,” he said on Thursday. Enditem

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