NAIROBI - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has eased the restrictions put in place in early March to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
In a nationwide address Monday, the president said this will be a phased reopening meant to strike a balance between containing the virus and sustaining the country's economic life.
He said the restrictions on movements in and out of Nairobi, considered the country's coronavirus epicenter, will end Tuesday. Travel in and out of Mombasa and Mandera, two of five other counties still under partial lockdown, had their restrictions lifted Monday afternoon, but with conditions, Kenyatta said.
"Should the situation deteriorate and pose a challenge to our health infrastructure, it shall be 'clawed back,'" he said. "In the next 21 days, we shall study patterns of interactions and the spread of the disease. Any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic, we will have no choice but to return to the lockdown at zero-option."
Kenyatta's address comes as the country battles a steep rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases. Kenya is seeing about 300 new cases each day, a figure that has more than doubled in the past month. Total COVID-19 cases now stand at 7,886, with 160 deaths.
Some of previous measures remain in place. Restrictions on political and social gatherings, together with a dusk-to-dawn nationwide curfew that was put in place in March, will continue for another 30 days, Kenyatta said.
He said places of worship can open but are limited to a maximum of 100 people inside, with events not lasting more than one hour. Congregants must be between ages 13 to 58 and have no underlying medical conditions.
However, the president said local air travel will resume Wednesday, while international air travel will restart August 1.
Kenyatta said his intention for the country was to "reopen and to remain open," encouraging Kenyans to exercise "shared and civic responsibility" to ensure success.
"But history has taught us that the COVID crisis is not the first health disaster with such enormous economic challenges," he said. "There were many more before this one. However, those who overcame previous disasters and finished on top, began by first changing their mindsets. Put differently, it is not enough for the government to pump resources into the economy using stimulus instruments, as we have done. Such efforts will go to waste if the people do not co-create solutions with the government."
Kenyatta said he believes the path to recovery will be rocky and uneven, but ultimately can be navigated.