Coronavirus: Why Kenya won’t evacuate citizens from China

Thursday, January 30th, 2020 11:00 | By
A health officer screens a passenger arriving from China at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, yesterday. Photo/COURTESY

George Kebaso and Peter Leshan

The government will not evacuate its citizens from China because of the Coronavirus outbreak, it was announced yesterday.

Kenya’s ambassador to China Sarah Serem, who cut short her annual vacation to return to the South East Asian country, said yesterday that Kenya has not made a decision to evacuate her citizens due to the outbreak that has so far claimed at least 132 lives.

At the same time, the government is still waiting for results of the tests on the Kenyan student who  arrived in the country on Tuesday with symptoms of the virus.

The government had sent the samples to the Kenya Influenza Laboratory Centre and two other sample laboratories outside Kenya.

The student had arrived--- at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) from China with symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus and was admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) special isolation centre.

On Tuesday evening,  outgoing Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki  said  the country is prepared to deal with the situation.

“The fact that we have been able to detect and quarantine a suspected case in the shortest time possible, and having the samples results sent out for approval; the establishment of isolation facilities at our port of entry and at KNH tells you that we are prepared,” the CS said at Afya House.

Kariuki said the 22-year-old student was in a stable condition and only a suspected case. She promised that findings of the test samples taken from him were to be out “by close of business” yesterday. 

Yesterday, Serem said Kenyan authorities are in constant communication with  Kenyan students in China, and emergency lines had been activated in case of any incident.

“I prefer the Chinese government to handle the coronavirus since they are in a better position to deal with it.

I don’t think Kenya is ready to deal with the virus. By bringing Kenyans back, it will only expose the rest to the danger of infection,” she said in an interview  with a local TV station.

Despite criticism from Kenyans who took to various social media platforms to castigate the announcement, Serem maintained that all is well as the authorities in China had put in place measures  to deal with the outbreak.

A Kenyan university student, Silas Totolela, in the Wuhan State where the outbreak was first reported, confirmed that the Chinese government in conjunction with the Kenyan embassy in Beijing through the university has put in place appropriate measures to ensure they are safe.

Suspend flights

He said the university had issued the students with several precautionary measures including staying indoors,  and wearing nose masks if they have to step out of their rooms.

“We are quarantined. We are not supposed to go outside the campus. We have to stay indoors so that we don’t get into contact with the contaminated air.

“We have also been given detergents that are hygiene based. So we have to strictly clean up every time we step out and come back to our rooms,” he added.

Totolela said about 85 Kenyan students in the Wuhan City, have a chat platform where they are sharing their experiences and talking with the Kenyan officials in the Beijing embassy.

The death toll from the outbreak rose to 132 yesterday and the number of confirmed cases was more than 6,000.

Meanwhile, national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) announced that it will continue flying to China even as other airlines are cutting flights to China over the virus. 

KQ said it is closely monitoring the situation before taking the next steps.

“We are monitoring this on a very regular basis, as frequently as every hour. We will make a decision in collaboration with the government on when and if we should suspend the flights,” KQ acting chief executive Allan Kilavuka said  yesterday.

British Airways is the latest to announce the suspension of direct flights to and from mainland China.

Other airlines that have banned flights include United Airlines, Air Canada and Cathay Pacific Airways. 

But even as KQ maintained that they are not stopping flights to China, local tour operators appealed to the airline to consider cancelling all flights to China until the coronavirus is contained.

The tourism sector, the operators said, would be hurt if the viral disease spreads to the country. 

“Kenya Airways should not put commercial consideration above the safety of the country and above other sectors,” said Njoroge Gichina,Tour Guides and Drivers Association national chairman.

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