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Covid admissions, deaths fall even as cases are rising

Ministry of Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG

Kenya’s death toll and hospital admissions from the Covid-19 disease have declined for several weeks despite daily coronavirus infections rates hitting record highs.

Data from the Ministry of Health shows that Kenya has recorded 18 deaths in the three weeks of December compared to 111 fatalities in a similar period in October when the country lifted the night curfew.

Hospital admissions attributed to Covid-19 are also at record lows with average daily admissions in December at 198 compared to 739 in October.

Hospitalisations and deaths have lagged in infection rates, which on Monday hit the highest level since the country recorded the first case of Covid-19 case in March last year, prompting fears of fresh restrictions to curb the pandemic.

The positivity rate — the ratio of positive tests — rose to 29.6 percent on Monday before receding to 27.8 percent on Tuesday amid the spread of the infectious Omicron variant.

The surge in global coronavirus infections has seen many countries tighten restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

But the infectious variant and the jump in cases have so far proven notably less deadly than the original wave.

Health experts cite three main reasons for fewer people who test positive for Covid-19 becoming seriously ill and even fewer deaths from the disease: more testing, changes in the ages of those infected and improved treatment for the sickest patients.

This has prompted medical experts to ask the State to put on hold fresh restrictions given that deaths and hospitalisation have not matched the surging cases.

“So far, there is no evidence that Omicron is more dangerous than the other variants and so the government should just scale up the vaccinations and adherence to the health protocols,” Githinji Gitahi, CEO of Amref Health Africa International, told Business Daily on Tuesday.

Mr Gitahi, however, said the health facilities should be well-prepared to handle a spike in infections in the event of the fast-spreading Omicron variant spike in the festive season.

Medical experts in South Africa have said that tests show that the new variant is not as deadly, adding that those already fully vaccinated stand better chances of fighting off the disease.

“Data from South Africa is interesting and positive about some lower severity of Omicron, but not obviously clear cut that it is at the levels needed,” Ewan Birney, deputy director-general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) labels a country to be a high risk if the positivity rate rises above five percent and advises countries to consider restrictions if it remains above the limit for at least 14 days.

December 12 marked the first time since September 30 that higher than five percent of tests were coming positive, focusing attention on infection rates as Kenya heads to Christmas and the New Year celebrations.

President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the curfew and allowed bars and other entertainment joints to resume normal in-person services on October 20, saying that Kenya had met a majority of indicators used to downgrade restrictions.

Kenya has fully vaccinated 3.66 million people and partially inoculated 5.39 million as the nation lags in its fight against the disease.

The nation had banked on mass vaccinations to keep infection rates lower and avoid lockdowns, which triggered layoffs and contraction of the economy last year. But the slow uptake of the vaccine has prompted warnings that Kenyans without proof of vaccination against Covid-19 could be locked out of government services.

The Netherlands effected a lockdown on Sunday while Germany and the US have barred travellers from some nations on their red-list.

The restrictions have, however, faced opposition as the authorities make the delicate balance between taming the spread of the disease and disrupting the economic recoveries of various sectors.

Kenya’s economy, like others, has been hit by the pandemic, as restrictions to curb its spread reduced revenues and stifled growth. Economic output contracted for the first time in nearly three decades last year, hit by the impact of the coronavirus crisis on key sectors such as tourism.

Growth slid to negative 0.3 percent last year from 5.0 percent in 2019. Recovery signs are showing, but there are fears the pace could be hurt by a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines and new waves of infections.

The Central Bank of Kenya expects the economy to grow by 6.1 percent this year and 5.6 percent in 2022.

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