Kenya reinstates mask mandate as COVID-19 positivity rate spikes

NAIROBI, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's Ministry of Health on Monday reinstated the wearing of masks in public spaces including supermarkets, open air markets, airplanes, trains and public service vehicles to curb further spread of COVID-19 infections.

Mutahi Kagwe, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Health said that other confined spaces where citizens will be required to wear masks include offices, houses of worship and political indoor meetings.

According to Kagwe, Kenya's COVID-19 positivity rate had risen from a weekly average of 0.6 percent in early May to the current 10.4 percent, hence the need for drastic measures to avert strain on the local public health system.

"The sharp rise in coronavirus infections should concern everyone and we must take strong measures to prevent a slide into a public health crisis," Kagwe said at a briefing in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

He added that the government will accelerate COVID-19 vaccination to avert large-scale hospitalizations and fatalities, adding that the majority of new cases are mild and are being treated under state funded home-based care programs.

Kagwe said the current cold season in Kenya combined with heightened campaigns ahead of Aug.9 general elections could worsen COVID-19 transmission and informed the move to reinstate the mask mandate.

The health ministry in March announced relaxation of COVID-19 containment measures stating that wearing of masks was optional, following a sustained drop in new infections.

Local epidemiologists had late April warned that the country could experience a mild wave of infections from May to July, clarifying that the risk of mass fatalities was minimal.

Statistics from the ministry of health indicate that total confirmed positive cases stood at 329,605 as of Monday, after 252 people tested positive in the last 24 hours from a sample size of 1,993 while the positivity rate stood at 12.6 percent.

The capital Nairobi is the hotspot for new coronavirus infections followed by neighboring county of Kiambu while the port city of Mombasa and several western Kenyan counties had also recorded surging transmission.

The proportion of fully vaccinated adults stood at 31.5 percent as of Monday, as the government raced against time to attain a 70 percent target before the year's end, says the Ministry of Health.

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