It is that time of the year when Christmas carols get louder as families toast to a good year with lots of food and drinks in the background.
Whether it has been a good year depends on who you ask but for the vast majority of Kenyans, it has been a terrible year and that is an understatement.
It has been a bad year alright, but it is possible for it to end even worse if one contracts COVID-19 while celebrating the festive period with their kin.
The Kenyan holiday period is characterised by upcountry travel where the norm is to reflect over the just ended year by having a good time. This is when goats find their way on TV as promotional bait that retailers use to lure the public to shop at a certain store.
Basically the goat is the epitome of what the Kenyan holiday is like. As Kenyans roast, fry and boil their meat, it is also an opportunity to make new resolutions and strategize for the next year.
All that is fine, the only problem is that this year is no ordinary year and extra caution has to be applied.
The government has already advised Kenyans against travelling upcountry, reason being that it poses a health hazard for the country and exposes the country’s older and most vulnerable generation by potentially bringing the disease to their doorstep.
So how can Kenyans go about the holiday season without exercabating the situation?
The Less The Merrier
Probably the most straightforward point that is even recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to recent guidelines published by the agency, ” The safest way to celebrate winter holidays is at home with the people who live with you,”
Research has suggested that almost half of those who contract the new coronavirus do not experience any symptoms. That being the case, they may unwittingly spread it further.
If a person is unaware that they have a SARS-CoV-2 infection because they remain symptom-free, they may choose to meet up with family members over the holidays.
In doing so, they could contribute to the risk of others contracting the virus, including those who may already be more vulnerable, such as older relatives or loved ones with existing chronic conditions, including diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
Consequently, the best way to celebrate Christmas this year is to avoid social gatherings and celebrate the festive season at home.
That includes avoiding seeing people who may already face a heightened risk of COVID-19, refrain from traveling to areas where the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise and avoid traveling upcountry.
Face Mask is King
By now you might have memorised the word ‘barakoa’ which is swahili for face mask.
The Ministry of Health has stressed the importance of wearing face masks in public spaces or in close vicinity of people you do not live with (some of who are relatives).
Given that Kenyans are set to mingle with their family and friends during the holiday season, some of whom have tested positive for the virus before or in the recent past while others may be asymptomatic carriers, caution must be applied.
It is tempting not to wear a facemask while interacting with people you are fond of but this year, it is necessary.
However, wearing a face mask alone is not sufficient.
Maintain Social Distance
The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises, “If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue. Check local advice where you live and work. Do it all!,”
The Ministry of Health has recommended maintaining a social distance of a metre and a half or six feet while going about your duties.
In various media reports, Kenyans have been recorded interacting worryingly close to each other despite being advised agaisnt doing the same.
If maintaining social distance under normal circumstances has proved difficult leading to the spread of the virus, what is likely to happen if people mingle freely with their loved ones?
Play your part and maintain social/physical distance.
Wash Your Hands
It is also important to keep washing the hands as often as possible. Previous research has suggested that if more than half of those who travel by air were to wash their hands often and correctly, the spread of viral infections could slow down by approximately 70%.
If there is limited or no access to soap and water, the government advises using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content.
School administrators were asked to ensure availability of clean running water and soap when the government announced the resumption of learning following the COVID-19 induced hiatus.
This has helped keep infection rates at bay in schools where learners interact freely and close to each other.
‘Handwashing has always been one of most effective ways of keeping diseases at bay. It is a simple act that pays in dividends when it comes to keeping ourselves healthy and safe. Handwashing is also one of the key cornerstones of COVID-19 prevention,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region in October.
“Now more than ever as we embrace the new normal and live with COVID-19, hand hygiene needs to become an integral part of our daily routine and our lives, as we live through this pandemic, and beyond, to protect us from diseases,” she added.
Are We On The Same Page?
Imagine a family gathering of 30 people in a small space.
No ground rules, all sorts of interactions.
Imagine the same for a group of friends who have met for the first time in a long while probably for a house party.
Overcoming any problem requires leadership and COVID-19 is a huge problem.
It is important not to become complacent and forget enforcing of the Ministry of Health & WHO guidelines is the first step in making sure that everyone is safe.
Avoid falling for peer pressure and ensure that amongst family and friends, even with the merrymaking that everyone is watching out for the health of the next person.