The almighty Face Mask: License to break all other Coronavirus rules?

First it was distance, then it was stay home, now masks!

Pulse Editorial: The almighty Face Mask: License to break all other Coronavirus rules?

Observing Kenyans during this Coronavirus pandemic, one will quickly note that there's a small section of the population that is actually petrified at the possibility of an outbreak then there's the rest.

A recent survey by Infotrak revealed some alarming statistics, for example that 52 per cent of Kenyans think Coronavirus has been exaggerated and a gobsmacking 48 per cent think it's just like the Common Cold.

As if that doesn't shock us, when President Uhuru Kenyatta recently announced a travel ban in the worst hit regions, Kenyans tried to beat the system by creating "panya routes", and as always, social media celebrated the indifference as ingenuity.

Then came the face masks rule and for the most part citizens seem to reason that they are to be worn when entering a supermarket or when one encounters law enforcement officers.

With the introduction of the strict face masks rule, attendants have relaxed on the washing and sanitizing of hands and people have a false sense of security behind the mask.

A reporter in one of rural parts of the country this week highlighted that even bodaboda riders who are under explicit instructions to have a face mask on during every trip were flouting the rule. Residents in that part of the country were seen going about their businesses without the mask, in fact, the reporter stood out because he was wearing his.

Compliance Fatigue

Kenyans are experiencing compliance fatigue. Too many new rules to follow in such a short time and quite frankly, there are only 230-something cases in a country with just over 47 million people, right? What's the fuss all about?

We washed hands, we stopped hugging and shaking hands, workers who could were asked to work from home, children are not in school, matatus are not carrying to capacity, some towns are on lockdown, we have a daily curfew, life has changed.

The Ministry of Health seems to have the situation under control but somehow we don't know when life will return to normal. It can be frustrating and tiresome to keep track and try to understand.

Others are tired of counting exactly how many corners their houses have, parents are getting exhausted with being the cook, cleaner, doctor, teacher, pastor, imam, police and playmate to their children while keeping up with work obligations.

A Case for the Facemask

The US Department of Health recommends use of a cloth face covering even one made at home "in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission."

Translation: face masks are necessary at this point of the pandemic, anyone could have Coronavirus and not know that they have it. It is no longer a disease that people who have travelled abroad have, it is a disease that any Kenyan could have come into contact with even without knowing, this explains the local transmissions in the country.

The seriousness of the matter was further cemented by IG Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai who announced that Kenyans would be arrested if found in public without a face mask.

Users of public or private transport and public transport operators shall wear proper masks that must cover the mouth and nose. They should also maintain a physical distance of not less than a metre.

“A person who commits an offence under these rules shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding Sh20,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both,” CS Mutahi Kagwe said in the Kenya Gazette Supplement No 41.

It is not a free pass on all the other rules, it is just one more precaution that could mean life or death for that asthmatic neighbour you live across from.

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