Workers at risk of Coronavirus infection as EPZA bosses stand aside

EPZ workers in one of the factories in Athi River at 4.30 pm on March 23.
EPZ workers in one of the factories in Athi River at 4.30 pm on March 23.

As the government is taking measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, thousands of workers at Export Processing Zone, Athi River are at risk.

More than 40 companies, mostly owned by Chinese, Asians, locals, and foreigners have employed about 20,000 workers, who report to work every day.

On Monday, March 23, hundreds of workers were seen streaming in as security officers stood guard at the gates of EPZ authority in Athi River.

One employee of EPZA was seen with a small bottle of sanitiser and appeared to be overwhelmed by the number of workers streaming to the effect that most of them went in without sanitising themselves.

EPZA’s CEO, Stephen Odua, was said to be outside but one of his senior staff said the authority has cut down the number of employees as a way to curb the spread of the virus.

Inside sources said there are at least two workers in every department each day as they work on shift.

Sources further claimed the regulator of all operations in the zone, who is an employee of EPZA, has not given direction on the government’s decision regarding the health of workers in crowded areas.

An employee in one of the many companies in the zone said: “The employer does not want to know about our health. We are just here hoping that this Coronavirus will spare us.”

Earlier in the morning, a senior employee at EPZA claimed that most of the raw materials come from China and that ever since there was a shutdown in that country there is not much going on.

“The more than 40 companies operating here have employed between 200 and 400 workers. We have a compliance manager who is supposed to give the owners of those companies guidance as regards the situation in the country,” said the EPZA employee.

The employee, however, said it is only the CEO who can talk to journalists and that he had not reported at work on Monday morning.

“I have sent him a text message because his phone is off. I expect him to call so that I can alert him that you needed to talk to him,” said the employee.

John Senteu, a resident of Kitengela town, where most of the workers at EPZA’s companies live, called the Star on Monday to alert on the exposure of workers to the dreaded Coronavirus.

“I am loudly wondering why shut down all places including churches, mosques and bars and not EPZ factories?” asked John Senteu.

Senteu said the national government together with county governments of both Machakos and Kajiado should move with speed and act.

“This is a time bomb in waiting. Heath CS Mutahi Kagwe should know this. We cannot continue to sit on the time bomb, and yet we know the consequences,” added Senteu.

Justin Koin, a teacher in Kajiado, said Isinya Roses, a company operating in Isinya had closed down and wondered what the EPZA companies in Athi River are up to.

On Sunday the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, while addressing a press conference at Harambee House suspended all international flights with an exception of cargo flights.

He also said all those coming into the country between Sunday and Wednesday — both Kenyan citizens and foreigners — will undergo mandatory quarantine at a government-designated facility at their own expense.

“Countries wishing to evacuate their nationals must make their arrangements to do so within this period,” said the minister.

Kagwe said Kenyans who are currently in foreign countries and will not have come back within the said period, are advised to observe the guidelines issued in the respective countries wherever they are.

The CS also castigated a section of Kenyans for ignoring government directives on dealing with the pandemic and, instead, “acting as if it is business as usual.”

“As I cautioned last week, this disease is not a joke, Kenyans must treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves by adjusting and changing their lifestyles,” said CS Kagwe.

He hence ordered the closure of all bars in the country effective Sunday midnight until further notice.

The CS further announced that restaurants are to remain open but only for purposes of facilitating take away services.

“This is meant to secure the social distance requirement, noting the increased risk of transmission these facilities cause,” said Kagwe

He also announced the government’s resolve to suspend all social gatherings in religious settings such as churches, mosques and women chamas as well as funerals which are now only restricted to close family members not exceeding 15.

CS Kagwe, also during the presser, announced that the country had recorded 8 new positive cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number to 15.





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