Kenya imposed stringent new restrictions in the capital, Nairobi, and in four other counties, fighting a deadly third wave of Covid-19 infections that has placed its fragile health system under devastating pressure.
In a televised address on Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that a tenfold increase in infection rates since January, coupled with a 52 percent increase in hospital admissions this month, called for “drastic measures.”
“Kenya is now squarely in the grip of a third wave of this pandemic,” he said.
Several variants have been identified in Kenya, but some were found among travelers, and there is little data to suggest how prevalent they may be or what role they might be playing in the East African nation’s surge. They include B.1.1.7, the more transmissible and possible more lethal variant first identified in Britain; B.1.351, a variant first found in South Africa that may bypass the protection afforded by current vaccines; and A.23.1, a variant that is now dominant in Kenya’s neighbor Uganda and nearby Rwanda.
As of midnight, Mr. Kenyatta said, all gatherings are banned in Nairobi and four adjoining counties, which make up a single infection zone. Travel is prohibited in and out of the restricted area, where bars, restaurants and places of worship will close, and a nightly 10 p.m. curfew moves to 8 p.m. However, Nairobi’s international airport will remain open.
In the rest of Kenya, sporting activities are suspended, and schools and universities will close until further notice.
The curbs came a week before the Easter holiday when many Kenyans pile into crowded buses to return to their family homes in rural areas.
A vaccination program that started in March raised hopes for an end of the pandemic, which has devastated the country’s tourism-dependent economy. One small bright spot in the tourism downturn has been an influx of wealthy Europeans hoping to ride out the pandemic in upmarket resorts along Kenya’s coast.
But the soaring rate of infections and deaths has forced the country into a painful new lockdown, Mr. Kenyatta said. As of Thursday, Kenya reported a total of 126,170 cases and 2,092 deaths. The positive test rate hit 22 percent this week, compared with 2 percent in January, he said.