In Brief: Kenya hits new peak for COVID-19 cases

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Diagnostic equipment for COVID-19 at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by: C. Madara / Nuclear Power and Energy Agency / IAEA / CC BY

Kenya has hit its peak positivity rate for COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as the highest number of deaths per day. The surge is driven by the capital city of Nairobi, which the government says has seen a “staggering” number of cases recently, prompting new lockdown measures.

Rising tide: On Thursday, the country’s Ministry of Health said that over the previous nine days, Nairobi reported 5,718 new cases, accounting for 57.7% of the nation’s total.

In a speech Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced restrictions on movement in and out of the city, as well as four other counties, among other measures. Kenyatta said the country is in its third wave of the pandemic.

In January, the country had 4,380 new cases, with a positivity rate of 2.6%, and so far this month there have been 15,916 new cases, with a positivity rate of 22%. About seven people have died per day this month.

Why it matters: Kenyatta said the growth in cases is putting “unparalleled” stress on the health system. In the past 13 days, the hospital admission rate has increased by 52%, and over 950 new patients were in intensive care unit wards for COVID-19-related complications.

Dr. Ahmed Kalebi, director at Pathologists Lancet Kenya, one of the country’s main private laboratories, tweeted Saturday that all hospitals in Nairobi have “a waiting list for ICU and COVID-19 isolation beds with oxygen.”

But the government may face difficulties as it works to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Nairobi. About 2 million people in the capital — nearly half the city’s residents — live in densely populated informal settlements. Many of these settlements have limited supplies of clean water, and residents have encountered challenges over the past year in adhering to social distancing measures.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a global health reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.