When Khadija (not her real name) landed in Kenya on March 24, she did not have the slightest idea of the ordeal that awaited her.
As the new coronavirus swept through the world, causing panic and anxiety, the shipping firm employee and 10 of her colleagues flew into Nairobi from Dubai, the UAE.
Getting to Nairobi was a logistical nightmare that stretched into three flights as there was no direct one to Nairobi.
“We flew from Dubai to Muscat, Oman, on March 24 and waited several hours before catching a connecting flight to Doha, Qatar. From Doha, we flew to Nairobi the next day,” she said.
On arrival in Nairobi, Khadija and her workmates were in for a rude shock.
“Authorities at the airport insisted that we be taken into quarantine pending testing for Covid-19. They told us to head to a number of city hotels for accommodation for the duration of the quarantine. However, the charges at the hotels they listed were too expensive for most of us,” she said.
When the weary passengers protested the exorbitant charges, the authorities backed down and offered to accommodate them at the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC).
This was, however, a cropper as the institution refused to admit them, forcing the authorities to take them to Moi Girls’ High School.
“We spent a tense and agonising 12 hours at the airport after our flight as the back and forth between the authorities and the institutions ensued. Finally, Moi Girls’ agreed to take us in so we were driven there,” said Khadija.
Khadija said the 129 guests at the school are forced to share dormitories and related facilities including bathrooms, toilets, handwashing and dining areas.
“At the school, we are sharing everything including bathrooms, toilets and hand washing areas. This places us at risk of getting infected should one of us have Covid-19,” she said.
The 28-year-old said the group at the school includes Pakistanis, Syrians, Cameroonians and other foreign nationals, whose state is yet to be confirmed as they have only been tested once.
In a phone interview with the Nation, she said medical officials had only tested the group once and then checked their temperature using thermal scanners like those used at airport terminals.
“We have only been tested once – on March 30,” she said.
Khadija’s worst fears were confirmed when three quarantined people were confirmed positive for the deadly disease.
She accused the authorities of not isolating them speedily them from the general population.
“The authorities did not take them into isolation so that they could be treated. This left us at risk of getting infected as the sick individuals were left to live and move freely among us,” she said.
Ms Khadija said the sick individuals were finally moved to a facility on March 3.
She is afraid they infected other people at the quarantine site.
“To make a risky situation worse, we have not been tested since they were taken away. Instead, we are mingling freely with each other, placing the uninfected ones at great risk of contracting the disease from those who have not yet started showing symptoms,” she said.
Ms Khadija said the situation at the school is gloomy yet the authorities are focused on ensuring they each pay Sh28,000 before they are allowed to leave when their quarantine period ends.
“A lady in charge of the site always insists that anyone wishing to leave must part with Sh28,000 before being cleared,” she said.
Ms Khadija also accused the security team of being harsh and said they are no longer allowed to purchase food outside the school.
“Initially, we were allowed to order food from outside the site but nowadays if we attempt to do so, the guards take our money and eat the food without giving us any explanation. There are three Syrians in here who are not eating anything yet no one is bothered about improving our living conditions,” she said.
The shipping clerk also claimed there is a woman with a baby at the school, who faces a similar risk of infection due to interacting with asymptomatic residents.
“We have been treated unfairly at the school. Reports that the quarantine has been extended by another two weeks have left us in despair,” she said.
Ms Khadijafurther claimed the residents were threatened with arrest if they continued being difficult and demanding for their rights.
“This afternoon, one of the administration officials told us our quarantine period will be extended if we continue being difficult and arguing with them over our rights and the quality of our stay,” she said.
She claimed there are three pregnant women at the site and that they have not received any specialised care or medical attention.
In a separate call to the Nation, an expectant woman at another quarantine site claimed she was taken to the Kenyatta National Hospital when she complained of being unwell but was forced to return after the referral facility refused to admit her.
“When I fell ill, I pleaded with the authorities to take me to a hospital for treatment. They told me of a private hospital but said the costs were too high so I declined,” said the woman identified only as Rosemary.
Rosemary said the administrators told her the ambulance was available at Sh 5,000 but that she did not have the cash.
“A sympathetic medic offered to call a friend with an ambulance to take me to KNH. In the end, they decided to take me to KNH. I waited from 7 pm to midnight. That was when I was taken to hospital.”
At KNH, Rosemary was taken to the labour ward, where things soon turned ugly.
“The nurses refused to admit me unless I showed them documents to prove that I was Covid-19 negative,” she said.
She said the medics treated her as just a suspected Covid-19 case.
“All their questions were related to Covid-19. At no point did they show interest in my pregnancy or the pain I was feeling. In the end, I asked the authorities to return me to the quarantine site,” said the 25-year-old who is eight months pregnant.
“My family back home is distraught as they cannot afford the quarantine fees demanded by the authorities. I do not know when I will finally go home,” she said.
Calls to Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to comment on the allegations by quarantined individuals went unanswered.
Further calls and messages to the Health Chief Administrative Secretary, Dr Mercy Mwangangi, also went unanswered.
The Nation also tried in vain to call Dr Kadondi Kasera who is part of the coronavirus case management team at the ministry.
Kenya is currently battling the covid-19 pandemic with 172 confirmed cases, seven recoveries and six deaths.
On Monday, President Uhuru Kenyatta restricted movement into and out of the four counties where cases have been reported as part of many measures to reduce cases of local transmission.
The counties are Nairobi, which has the bulk of the cases, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale.