NAIROBI - Kenyan authorities faced a backlash this week after extending by two weeks a mandatory quarantine for people held in centers where coronavirus has been detected.
Kenya has quarantined hundreds of arrivals since March to try to curb the spread of COVID-19. As of Friday, the country had recorded 189 cases of the disease and seven deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
Rights groups say the government is treating those held in quarantine like prisoners, but health authorities say the tough measures are needed to prevent the virus from spreading unchecked.
A signed statement released Tuesday by 24 Kenyan rights groups expressed concern after authorities extended the quarantine period. It noted that it was not clear how many people were in mandatory quarantine in Kenya and how many of those had been tested for the virus.
"The civil society consortium is calling the government to action because the government has not been forthcoming with information to those who have been held in mandatory quarantine," said Allan Maleche, executive director at KELIN, a Kenyan group that advocates for health rights. "The government has not been clear on who is paying for the cost; the government has not been clear on when people are supposed to be tested."
Kenya has designated 57 quarantine centers in Nairobi and Mombasa, which are hosting hundreds of people at their own cost.
Who will pay?
Jaylin, who for privacy reasons did not wish to use her real name, has been at a Nairobi quarantine facility for more than two weeks. While she has shown no symptoms, Jaylin said she would have to stay two more weeks because the center had a confirmed infection.
“We haven’t heard even a single word about whether or not the further 14 days will be paid for by the government,” she said.
Some have complained also about the sanitation in Kenya’s quarantine centers. A resident at another Nairobi quarantine center, who asked that his name not be used, called the conditions "deplorable. In a floor, we are, like, 30 people sharing three toilets and three bathrooms. The toilets don’t flush, so we have to use buckets. So if there’s any place we can contract the disease, it’s in these facilities."
He said no one in his quarantine center had tested positive for the coronavirus. His claim could not be independently verified.
In the public interest
Kenya’s Health Ministry said it was aware of the inconvenience of quarantine but maintained the practice was being done in the interest of protecting the public.
Kenya’s director general of health, Dr. Patrick Amoth, on Tuesday defended the extended quarantine period while speaking to the media in Nairobi. He said it was the government’s responsibility to ensure anyone released was free of the virus.
“We want to assure you again, especially those people who are in quarantine, to ensure that you follow the social distancing rules, the infection control prevention measures, the handwashing, and very soon we are going to check on you again after the 10th day, to check whether you are negative," he said. "Working together with the county government, we shall be able to release you to continue with self-quarantine.”