How the COVID-19 pandemic has been covered by the media 

Since the government, through the Ministry of Health, confirmed the country’s first Covid-19 case in Nairobi on March 12, 2020, the government then embarked on a daily exercise of providing updates to the public, at times more than once per day.

The updates, which were delivered via media briefings conducted by the ministry’s top officials – mainly CS Mutahi Kagwe; acting Director of Health Patrick Amoth; or CAS Mercy Mwangangi – have since provided the public with numbers about the infected people, those who got the virus but later recovered, as well as those who succumbed due to complications arising from the virus. This exercise continues up to date.

The daily updates about infections, recoveries, and deaths related to Covid-19 from then onwards formed the basis of most of the coverage around the pandemic in the country in mainstream media, alternative channels and digital platforms.

Then, perhaps due to the monotony of listening to (or watching the live daily updates delivered by the same ministry officials), the public began expressing its skepticism and doubts about the figures and stats being released.

A case in point here was the case of Ivy Brenda Rotich (also referred to as Kenya’s Patient Zero), the first Covid-19 patient to leave the hospital in April after treatment, and Brian Orinda who was referred to as the country’s patient Number 3.

The two were then revealed to the public during a video call with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Ms. Rotich was later criticized on social media as a purported pretender supposedly sent to the media by the government to convince Kenyans that Covid-19 was real and to keep donor funding flowing, ostensibly for the containment of the virus.

Brenda and Brian were not the only ones to be vilified by Kenyans for coming out publicly about their Covid-19 status. Motivational speaker and Pastor Robert Burale was accused of faking his Covid-19 positive status despite images showing that he was in the hospital, then

Benson Musungu, ODM’s Director of Youth Affairs, was also accused of receiving a huge payout from the government to publicly say that he had received 15 days of treatment in the intensive care unit in the hospital.

Then followed Dennis Okari’s expose on the Covid-19 Millionaires aired by NTV in mid-August last year. This was the first (broadcast) media-initiated coverage of the pandemic. The expose led to calls to the government by the public to prosecute those involved in the scandal, which mostly involved the procurement and supply of PPEs by the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA).

After the KEMSA scandal moved to the background, the media shifted its attention to the emerging coverage of Covid-19 vaccines, their efficacy and eventual distribution and availability in Africa. This is where the focus has since shifted up to date.


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