• Effective testing, timing of responses, and building public trust in the pandemic containment processes are critical to the COVID-19 war.
• Within a margin of 2%, the model shows that a total of 100,000 COVID-19 cases in Kenya is likely at the start of the new year, 2021.
• Kenya just celebrated Independence Day on December 12, but she needs to enhance her COVID-19 testing rates and prepare for multiple peaks of COVID-19 curves, due to the resurgent waves. A mid-January peak and April 2021 peak have been simulated from the trends.
• Morocco, South Africa, and Rwanda are among the few African representatives whose daily average population-normalised COVID-19 testing rates are comparable to several top countries in Asia and South America, but still far behind Israel, the USA, and advanced European economies.
• The post-pandemic Reset 2021 agenda for teams of young innovators, such as Enactus, demands of them simple, affordable and high-impact solutions to replace the runaway fascination with sophisticated, costly and high-tech solutions with limited societal impact.
• Schools and skills support programmes such as ACCESS have a clear-cut Reset 2021 challenge to promote multidisciplinary capacity development as they nurture and equip students with transferable skill sets fit for the dynamic, digital, and data-driven post-pandemic labour market, as opposed to limiting linear career growth trajectories.
Testing, Timing, and Trust
On the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, this study confirms that testing and sampling efficacy, the timing of response, and the building of public trust in the containment processes are critical elements in combating the resurgent pandemic. Trust has been the most elusive part for governments, whenever the containment action lacks transparency, accountability, and inclusion. Ignoring behaviour change agents and scholars can only accelerate the downward spiral as the pandemic tightens its grip on communities.
COVID-19 status update and implications for “Reset 2021”
COVID-19 vaccine optimism has been trending in December. The foreseeable long waiting time for the vaccination of a significant percentage of country populations to achieve herd immunity, even longer for developing countries with large populations, positions cautious optimism as the better part of valour for these countries. To varying degrees, the pandemic has shocked the traditional context for education, work-related engagements, healthcare delivery, among others. Technology, demographics, globalisation, and climate change have taken on new strategic perspectives following the ravaging global pandemic. The resurgent wave of the pandemic has changed the storyline of successful containment in exemplary European countries such as Germany, sending the advanced economies to another phase of tighter lockdowns.
On December 15, 2020, the confirmed global COVID-19 cases had topped 73 million with a case fatality rate of 2.2% against a global recovery rate of 70%. The USA was still leading with 17 million cases, recording a case fatality rate of 1.8% and recovery rate of 58% on this date. Africa’s case fatality rate still stood at 2.4% with a recovery rate of 85%. With 92,055 confirmed cases on December 15, three days after celebrating Independence Day (Jamhuri), Kenya had already surpassed China and ranked seventh in Africa. Kenya’s case fatality rate on this date had dipped slightly from the earlier 1.8% to 1.7%. The remarkable increase in recovery rate in Kenya had reached 80%, up from the much lower 52% recorded before August.
In Africa, the youth agenda must still take centre stage in the post-pandemic discourse for addressing the rising unemployment and skills shortage. Kenya is Africa’s exemplar of the challenges of technology and skills development to be addressed as the continent constructs a recovery roadmap. This special report shares the thoughts, mentorship experience, and the outputs from COVID-19 modelling expertise that are shaping key issues in the broader “Reset 2021” discourse. A reset of mindsets is the central focus, being the root of the undesired effects and unintended consequences, both in the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic era.
The place of youth in the post-pandemic renaissance
On December 14, Enactus Kenya held the 2020 University Student Leaders Summit, which attracted the participation of 24 universities. The theme of the day was World Reset 2021. As the invited guest speaker, I noticed the curiosity of the enthusiastic youth about the post-pandemic labour market opportunities and challenges. The interactive session could not do without referring to the disruptive effects of COVID-19. The signature message I deliver under the Impact Borderless Digital (IBD) youth mentorship series retained its relevance in the 4Ds (diligence, discipline, determination, and dignity) and the 4Ps (purpose, principles, passion, and plan).
There was unanimity on the necessity of embracing a new mind transformation map to ensure that the young innovators can be more impactful in 2021 and beyond. A key part of the transformation must involve the utilisation of science, technology, and data-driven digital transformation in an interdisciplinary setting to boost outcomes for policy and the society at large. Simple, affordable and high-impact solutions must replace the runaway fascination with sophisticated, costly and high-tech solutions with limited societal impact. Ultimately, foresight, insight, and hindsight must be exercised within an empowering environment of sound oversight for mentorship and accountability.
Policy and leadership message into the Post-COVID-19 Reset
As the festive season sets in and ushers in full school reopening in January, the mind transformation map relays a key policy message on why leaders need to embrace data integrity and the input of scientists into the decision-making space for COVID-19 containment. Lessons from the models shared here could help enhance government policy and strategic responses to COVID-19 at this critical juncture.
Educational leadership has to embrace a more collaborative approach in the digital and borderless post-pandemic learning environment. A learner-centred approach that equips students with systems thinking and scientific inquiry skills as well as multidisciplinary and transferable skills will be even more important. The limiting linear career growth trajectories that have hitherto informed the traditional context for teaching engineering and similar disciplines must give way to pedagogical approaches and international exchange programmes that facilitate non-linear and interdisciplinary thinking, hence resilience and global awareness. For Africa, the African Centre for Career Enhancement and Skills Support (ACCESS) is a suitable example.
Models and data integrity in the fight against COVID-19
The resurgent COVID curves across the globe have reinforced the importance of quality data and models in the decision support framework for disease and disaster governance. The models of COVD-19 used here have been covering a review of sixteen representative countries in Africa and sixteen countries representing Europe, North America, South America, and Asia. Sudan and Algeria, though part of the reviewed cases, have not been sharing reports on their COVID-19 tests and are, therefore, missing in the comparison of normalised testing rates.
Compared to the USA, Israel, and Europe, Africa still lags farther behind in the normalised comparative metric for COVID-19 testing rates. The daily average population-normalised testing parameters, expressed in tests/million people/day, display this disparity and the lower score as well as slower progression of testing rates across Africa. Morocco, South Africa, and Rwanda are among the few African representatives whose normalised testing rates are comparable to several top countries in Asia and South America.
Starving the COVID-19 curves of data leads to a truncated view of the real situation of transmissions, leading to misleading policy decisions and interventions. In Kenya, the reduced testing rates observed between August 16 and the beginning of October is a case in point. With increased testing rates from October and the ensuing generous easing of restrictions from September 28, 2020, Kenya realised a substantial surge in COVID-19 cases.
Kenya at a crossroads of COVID-19 decisions into 2021
Facing the inevitability of increased social contacts over the December festive season and the planned full reopening of schools in January 2021, Kenya finds herself again at a historic crossroads. At this juncture, the utility of data-driven modelling for calibrating containment policies and strategic action rises to the top of the dominant discourse towards 2021. This study draws on the ongoing IBD COVID-19 modelling series at country, regional and global levels, conducted since March 2020.
Kenya has been the most studied country in this modelling series, resulting in a compact bandwidth of simulated scenarios that have been predicting Kenya’s cumulative end-month cases to within 0.1–13.8% margin of error, hence remaining largely within the traditional 10% threshold considered adequate for policy simulations.
This compact model of COVID-19 data trends in Kenya can now confirm that the country needs to prepare for multiple peaks of the COVID-19 curve, due to the resurgent waves. Based on the recent data trends from November 15, the projections for January 1, January 14, and January 31 were as follows.
i. January 1, 2021: 86,816 (the foregone optimistic scenario seen before August 16 with a curve tending towards the peak in April 2021), 99,907 (assuming reducing positivity rates as observed over December 09–14 and later a surge in transmission due to December festive activities), 101,586 (BAU scenario of unconstrained testing with peaking of the current curve in mid-January, 2021), and 161,616 (a pessimistic continuation of the surging trend following the September 28 easing of restrictions).
ii. January 14, 2021: 89,771 (the foregone optimistic scenario seen before August 16 with a curve tending towards the peak in April 2021), 106,535 (assuming reducing positivity rates as observed over December 09–14 and later a surge in transmission due to December festive activities and school reopening), 103,188 (BAU scenario of unconstrained testing with peaking of the current curve in mid-January, 2021), and 197,473 (a pessimistic continuation of the surging trend following the September 28 easing of restrictions).
iii. January 31, 2021: Considering the effects of increased social contacts over the December holiday and further the expected full school reopening in January, the model has projected about 122,000 total cases on January 31, 2021. Assuming unconstrained testing capacity, the pessimistic scenario of surging trends as witnessed in October through November comes to more than 251,000 by the end of January.
Explaining Kenya’s COVID-19 curves, peaks and assumptions
The projection of reaching 103,188 total cases on January 14, 2021 is a possible peak of the new growth curve from November 15, 2020. The model has, however, envisaged another possible peak at about 99,000 cases on April 11, 2021. Since there were already 90,978 cases in Kenya on December 11, 2020, the January 14, 2021 projection of peaking at 103,188 cases is attainable only if the daily average of new cases drops to 368 from December 11, 2020 to January 14, 2021.
The April 2021 peak is even more remote, unless the daily average drops to only 75 new cases between December 11, 2020 and April 11, 2021. The testing rate, however, must be sustained or enhanced to ensure that the reduction in reported cases is not merely cosmetic due to substantial shortcomings and shortfalls in the number and spatial spread of the samples tested.
Conclusions and recommendations
An assured resurgence of COVID-19 curves has been so far witnessed in Kenya and elsewhere with the easing of movement restrictions. With the upcoming Christmas festivities, reopening of schools and places of high exposure risks such as bars, and the setting in of pandemic fatigue and normalcy bias, the December — January period is likely to see a significant escalation in Kenya’s new COVID-19 cases.
Within a margin of 2%, the model shows that a total of 100,000 COVID-19 cases in Kenya is likely at the start of the new year, 2021. The wavy COVID-19 curve also introduces the possibility of a new mid-January peak of more than 103,000 cases. However, with the planned reopening of the mostly crowded schools in January and increased movements and social contacts, the model shows Kenya is likely to hit a record range of 122,000–251,000 COVID-19 cases by the end of January 2021.
Enhanced efficacy of sampling and testing should be combined with a well-advised timing of interventions based on data-driven scientific modelling and an inclusive, structural building of public trust in the COVID-19 containment processes. A broad-based approach inclusive of community behaviour change agents is indispensable to the long-term containment strategy. Vaccine optimism needs to be moderated because achieving herd immunity will take time. Preventive measures through proven health and safety protocols are preferable.
Low-cost rapid diagnostics and technologically leveraged disease surveillance systems are recommended, of which geospatial technologies are critical to addressing the complex geography of the pandemic’s dynamics. Ultimately, an all-inclusive citizen-driven approach is mandatory as the more effective means to creating a manageable Kenya COVID-19 scenario, as opposed to having to contend with the uncertainties of the pandemic’s overwhelming waves in 2021. Measures by government that promote enhanced compliance with COVID-19 containment rules over the festive December — January period are, therefore, highly recommended.
Curfew extension, equipping hospitals and hospital staff with adequate protective equipment, a ban on mass gatherings, and a strict enforcement of the regulations for super-spreaders such as bars and night clubs are among the ready tools at government’s disposal.
By Nashon Adero
The author was Guest Speaker at the Enactus Kenya Student Leaders Summit held in Nairobi on December 14, 2020. He is a youth mentor – both under his self-founded Impact Borderless Digital (IBD) and Kenya’s Presidential Digital Talent Programme. He is also a lecturer in the School of Mines and Engineering, Taita Taveta University, Kenya. He was a winner of the November 2020 ACCESS Idea Competition for African academia on “Employability Promotion at Higher Education Institutions in Africa”.
Contacts: [email protected] Twitter: @hopadero @impactborderle1