By Moffin Njoroge
The screenshot above shows a WhatsApp message that has been widely shared since early last month claiming that failure to wear a mask in public had been gazetted as a criminal offence in Kenya.
Following the confirmation of Kenya’s first COVID-19 cases in mid-March, the government put in place several measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
Such measures included the closure of all institutions of learning from the basic level to the highest level, mandatory quarantining of those travelling into the country at the time and, later, stoppage of all international and local domestic air travel, restrictions on public gatherings and events such as funerals, as well as the cessation of movement in several counties including the capital, Nairobi. A raft of other measures, as we will see below, was subsequently announced and put in place in the weeks that followed.
Across the world, medical practitioners have also recommended the use of masks in public as a COVID-19 containment measure, something that has been taken seriously by the Kenyan government in addition to the emphasis on the proper sanitization of all surfaces and frequent handwashing with soap and water.
These guidelines have, however, not been taken seriously, with many Kenyans wearing masks partially. Many can be spotted covering the mouth only, or just hanging the masks on their necks. With the police being warned by President Uhuru Kenyatta against harassing Kenyans, especially during curfew hours, many have interpreted it as an order stopping the police from arresting those found in public without a mask.
Amendments to the Public Health Act gazetted by the Health Cabinet Secretary in early April require Kenyans to wear masks that cover both the face and the nose when appearing in public.
The gazette notice further states that anyone flouting those rules shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding Ksh. 20,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both.
“A person who commits an offence under these Rules shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both,” the amended Act reads.
The claim that failure to wear a mask in public could result in a Kshs 20,000 fine, a six-month prison sentence or both upon conviction is actually TRUE.