It is not surprising that Kenya has reported the first COVID-19 case, it was coming. With more than half of the countries affected so far, it very likely that COVID-19 will spread to nearly all countries before the outbreak dies off. The number of cases is likely to reach 150,000 in a day or two and over 5000 deaths have been reported so far.
So, what does reporting the first case mean for Kenya? It means that we each have to take measures to protect ourselves and those around us from infection. The measures that have been proposed – cleaning hands and surfaces frequently, cough etiquette and social distancing – may sound simple but if followed, they can go a long way in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Many Kenyans have wondered how many more people could be infected since the identified person had mingled with others for several days before isolation. It is a valid question and hopefully, it will be answered as all the contacts are traced and assessed. Nonetheless, it is possible to have more cases reported in the near future. Therefore, as a country we need to keep assessing and reviewing the risk of spread and put in place counter measures that match that risk. The move by the government to ban large public gatherings is timely and we should prepare ourselves for more restrictions if the risk increases. County governments, learning institutions, businesses and other private organizations should also put measures in place to respond appropriately to the outbreak.
COVID-19 infection is not lethal in most cases. Most patients will have mild or moderate illness, some will require medical interventions to survive and a few, especially the elderly, may die. Ultimately, the social and economic harm caused by this outbreak is likely to affect more people than the illness itself. Missed social events such as weddings and trips are likely to cause anguish and anxiety.
Indeed, many Kenyans are under a lot of stress and anxiety already, wondering how COVID-19 will affect their health, school, work and other activities. Some concern is good as it will keep us on our toes but it is not time to panic yet. Think twice before you decide it time to stock-pile soap or toilet paper, before you attend any gathering, or even before you decide to visit a patient in hospital!
This first case should serve as a clarion call for everyone, not just government to do whatever is in their power to keep COVID-19 at bay.
First Published in the Daily Nation on 24th March 2020.
Story by Dr. Moses Masika.