Striking 'Covid braids' are raising awareness about the virus in Kenya

Striking 'Covid braids' are raising awareness about the virus in Kenya

A striking braided hairstyle is being used to raise awareness about the coronavirus pandemic in Kenya.

The braided spikes are meant to be an echo of the virus’ distinctive shape, and is being used as a reminder of the very real threat of the disease.

Sharon Refa, a 24-year-old hairdresser with a salon in Kibera, in the heart of the Kenyas capital, says the recognisable ‘coronavirus hairstyle’ is booming in popularity with children in the region.

‘Some grown-ups don’t believe that the coronavirus is real, but then most young children appear keen to sanitize their hands and wear masks. So many adults do not do this, and that is why we came up with the corona hairstyle,’ says Refa.

On Monday, Kenya had recorded 649 confirmed cases, 207 recovered and 30 deaths to Covid-19. But with the widespread shortage of testing materials, the real number of cases could be higher. Health officials are especially worried about the spread of the virus in poor, overcrowded areas.

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The hope is that this hairstyle will act as a visual reminder about the growing threat, and the need to protect yourself.

The spiky hairstyle isn’t new to Kenya, but it had gone out of fashion in recent years in favour of longer, straight styles using the imported real and synthetic hair from India, China and Brazil that flooded the market.

The style’s growing popularity is in part due to economic hardships linked to virus restrictions – mums like it because it’s a cheap way to style their kids’ hair – as well as the benefits of spreading awareness.

Margaret Andeya is a mother who is struggling to make ends meet. She says the coronavirus hairstyle suits her daughters’ styling needs and her bank balance. Virus-related restrictions have stifled the daily work for millions of people with little or no savings.

‘This hairstyle is much more affordable for people like me who cannot afford to pay for the more expensive hairstyles out there and yet we want our kids to look stylish,’ says Andeya.

It costs 50 shillings, or about 40 pence, to get the braids while the average hairdo costs 300 to 500 shillings (£2 to £4).

The technique used in braiding the coronavirus hairstyle is threading, which uses yarn instead of synthetic hair braids, which is what makes it so affordable.

‘Covid-19 has destroyed the economy, taken our jobs from us, and now money is scarce. I therefore decided to have my child’s hair done up like this at an affordable 50 shillings, and she looks good,’ adds 26-year-old Mariam Rashid.

‘The hairstyle also helps in communicating with the public about the virus.’

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