By Andrew Wasike
NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) - A Kenyan court on Tuesday blocked a government move requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination to access certain venues, facilities, and public transportation.
"The directive will remain suspended pending hearing and determination of the petition," ruled Justice Anthony Mrima of the High Court in Nairobi, the country's capital, upon a petition that called the restrictions, announced on Nov. 21 and set to go into effect on Dec. 21, were unconstitutional and discriminatory.
Critics say the decision would have denied millions access to key services and venues, while the East African nation struggles to get jabs into arms amid a shortage of vaccines. The measures would have included national parks, hotels, and restaurants, as well as education, immigration, hospitals, and prison visitation services.
Kenya's vaccination campaign began in March, prioritizing health workers, teachers, security personnel, and people over the age of 58, aiming to immunize 27 million people. So far, just 6.1% of the country's population of 53.7 million have been fully vaccinated.
Like many other low- and middle-income countries, especially in Africa, Kenya has struggled to procure enough vaccines. Citing this shortage, experts have criticized as unrealistic the government's latest measures, which have also caused backlash on social media for allegedly infringing on personal choice and constitutional rights.
The court ruling came after the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) issued a statement on Tuesday, asking business owners to enforce the government directive within seven days.
"All businesses that serve more than 50 persons a day will have to put up measures to ensure compliance by all their customers and clients. We further advise our members to develop and have an internal policy on COVID-19 to ensure ease of management of the labour force," said the statement.
The Human Rights Watch also released a report on Monday, warning that the vaccine requirements by the Kenyan government violate rights.
“While the government has an obligation to protect its people from serious public health threats, the measures must be reasonable and proportional," said Adi Radhakrishnan, a fellow at the Human Rights Watch, in the report.
"Vaccination coverage hinges on availability and accessibility, and the government's new measures could leave millions of Kenyans unable to get essential government services."
As of Tuesday, 256,815 people in Kenya have tested positive for the coronavirus, including 331 infections reported in the last 24 hours. In total, 5,349 have died of the disease, while no fatalities have been registered in the past day.