By Maggie Fick and George Obulutsa
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta restricted travel in the capital Nairobi and four surrounding counties on Friday as COVID-19 infections hit record levels in East Africa's richest economy.
In a televised address, Kenyatta said a wave of new curbs including a stricter curfew and the closure of bars would hurt but were essential to fight the pandemic.
The new restrictions come a week before the Easter holiday, when many Nairobi residents traditionally travel to visit family in other parts of the country.
"Whereas the foregoing measures will have a negative impact on the economy, these measures are temporary ... the cost of not acting now will be far much greater," the president said from State House, flanked by masked officials.
After his address, Kenyatta appeared on national TV getting his COVID-19 vaccination along with his wife, the acting Chief Justice and other members of the cabinet.
Under the new curbs, authorities said Nairobi and the counties of Kajiado, Machakos, Kiambu and Nakuru would be treated as one zone, and residents would be barred from crossing over to other areas.
"You can therefore move freely within the five counties. You will not however be able to leave and enter the One Zoned Area," Nzioka Waita, the Chief of Staff at Kenyatta's office, said on Twitter.
Public gatherings in the zone were suspended. In-person schooling, apart from for students taking exams, was suspended across the country.
The new steps will take effect at midnight on Friday and last until further notice, Kenyatta said. He also said meetings of his cabinet would not be held in person until further notice.
Kenya, heavily reliant on tourism, began COVID-19 vaccinations on March 5, with the government saying it hoped the campaign would mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
But three weeks later the president described soaring infections and the highest daily death rate since the pandemic began.
Kenya as of Thursday had reported 126,170 cases and 2,092 deaths in total. The president said the positive test rate hit 22% this week compared with January's 2%. This month, an average of seven Kenyans have died each day from COVID-19, up from three a day in January and February.
(Reporting by Maggie Fick and George Obulutsa; Editing by Jon Boyle, William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)