Kenya will require people to show proof of coronavirus vaccination to enter many businesses, restaurants and government offices starting next month, a major policy shift that has prompted outrage in a country where less than 5 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated.
Mutahi Kagwe, the cabinet secretary for health, said on Sunday that he was concerned about a slowdown in vaccinations and hoped the new rules would persuade more people to get their shots. With schools closing and the country heading into the festive season, he said there were concerns that people would become complacent about public health measures, including social distancing and wearing masks.
The new measure was swiftly criticized by the public and activists, who cautioned against a stringent vaccine mandate just weeks after the lifting of a longstanding nationwide night curfew that dampened economic activity.
Vaccination campaigns in Kenya have been hampered by the lack of awareness campaigns or widespread nationwide vaccination sites with authorities scrambling to access or purchase the cold storage facilities needed to store the shots.
Beginning Dec. 21, unvaccinated people will be denied access to visit government agencies, including those providing immigration, tax, education and transport services Mr. Kagwe said on Sunday.
The new rules will also extend to those planning to visit hospitals, prisons, eateries, bars, national parks and any business serving 50 or more people daily. Drivers of public transportation, along with pilots and air hostesses, will be expected to always carry proof of vaccination. In addition, visitors from Europe will be required to be fully vaccinated to enter Kenya.
Kenya has recorded over 254,700 cases and 5,328 deaths from the coronavirus. While average case rates have dropped in recent weeks, the lag in vaccinations and the spread of the more contagious Delta variant had overwhelmed the country’s health care system. Kenya hopes to vaccinate at least 30 million people before the end of 2022, but like many African countries, it has also struggled to gain access to vaccines.
The new restrictions were met with skepticism, with many lamenting its impracticality. Some pointed to the low vaccination rates among the adult population, with just 8.8 percent of them fully vaccinated. Others said the mandate could open the door to more corruption, bribery and the proliferation of fake vaccine certificates.
Critics said the government should not only make sure that vaccines are available to all, but also come up with better strategies to address vaccine hesitancy.
“A generalized mandatory vaccination, especially one that gives such a short notice within which people must be vaccinated in order to access even basic services, is unconstitutional,” Waikwa Wanyoike, a prominent constitutional lawyer, wrote on Twitter.