Deadly Indian Covid variant detected in 8
George Kebaso and Alvin Mwangi
Panic and fear has gripped Kenya’s medical fraternity following detection of the more lethal Indian variant of Covid-19.
Health authorities yesterday confirmed that they had detected eight cases of the Indian Covid-19 variant, which has killed slightly more than 200, 000 people in just one month in India.
Ministry of Health acting Director-General Dr Patrick Amoth said the eight cases are all Indian nationals, who arrived in the country last Thursday to take part in a fertiliser project in Kibos, Kisumu county.
They are all currently safely isolated and the area secured to ensure the variant does not spread, he added, a week after the same variant was detected in Uganda. 100 other people are in quarantine.
“The eight cases were picked up on Thursday last week on arrival in the country before the ban on flights between India and Kenya had been announced,” Amoth said at the Kenyatta National Hospital yesterday, a day when India continued to record the highest overall infections of more than 300,000 a day.
Scientists have described the Indian situation as the worst streak anywhere in the world since the pandemic began.
A vicious surge in Covid-19 cases has left the country’s healthcare system at breaking point, with medical facilities running out of oxygen and nearly all hospital beds occupied.
The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.
The Indian variant, officially known as B.1.617, was first detected in India in October last year.
Though scientists are yet to conclusively determine whether the variant is more infectious or resistant to vaccines, it has caused unparalleled damage in the populous Asian country.
Dr Moses Masika, a virologist lecturer at the University of Nairobi, says one of the variant’s mutations is similar to those seen in cases identified in South Africa and Brazil.
“This mutation may help the virus evade antibodies in the immune system that can fight coronavirus based on experience from prior infection or a vaccine,” said Dr Masika.
Medical experts have warned that case numbers in India will keep rising until the end of this month and could reach a high of 500,000 new infections a day.
India’s underfunded health system has struggled to cope with the new deadly wave, with patients dying in hospital parking lots due to a lack of beds and medical oxygen.
Though the Indian government expanded its massive vaccination programme to all adults last week, many states are still facing shortages.
Yesterday, Medical director Amoth said the five cases were picked from a sample of travellers from India.
He disclosed that 18 more arrivals from the same country tested positive for Coronavirus last Thursday and were immediately sent to quarantine facilities.
“Indian variant, yes, this variant has been picked in Kenya and because of global connectivity, it is just a question of time.
You cannot be able to place barriers to prevent a virus from accessing your territory,” Amoth said, reinforcing the fact that viruses know no boundaries.
“We have, however, gone ahead together with the Kisumu county health team to do contact tracing as we await results of the genome sequencing from samples collected from the travellers,” he said.
Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides or bases used to trace the source of a virus or disease strain.
Currently, Dr Amoth said genome sequencing of the samples collected from the Indian travellers is ongoing at the Kenya Medical Research Institute Walter Reed campus in Kisumu. The results are expected at the weekend.
He said this on a day Kenya recorded 489 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections to 161,393. 20 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, bringing the cumulative number of fatalities in the country tot 2,825.
Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr Rashid Aman said a total of 900,459 persons have so far been vaccinated against Covid-19.
The new cases were from a sample size of 4,426 tests conducted in 24 hours, presenting a positivity rate of 11 per cent.
The cases comprise 449 Kenyans and 40 foreigners aged between four months and 102 years.
“11 of the deaths were reported on diverse dates while nine are late deaths reports from health facilities audits,” he said.
Dr Aman said Covid-19 cases have been going down but warned Kenyans against lowering their guard.
“It is true that we are recording small numbers but we should not lose guard. We should continue to observe the laid down protocols as we have been,” he added.
Some 1,164 patients are currently admitted to various health facilities while 6, 603 were in the home-based care programme.
At least 153 patients were in intensive care, 28 of whom were on ventilator support, 99 on supplemental oxygen and another 26 under observation.
Another 119 patients were separately on supplemental oxygen out of whom 111 were in the general wards and eight in the high dependency unit.
In the vaccination campaign of the 900, 459 Kenyans so far inoculated, 524, 720 are members of the public, including those aged above 58 years, 159,308 are healthcare workers, 140,354 are teachers and 76, 077 are security personnel.
On the status of oxygen in the country, Amoth urged counties to use the ongoing pandemic as a chance to improve piped oxygen in hospitals.
“It is better to prepare now than say sorry later. We look at India, a country that we all know to have a strong health system but they have been ravaged. It is time as a country we prepared early,” he said.
The B.1.617 variant has been blamed for India’s second wave of infections that has seen the country’s cases surge to more than 20 million.
The World Health Organisation has classified it as a “variant of interest”.
Variant was recorded in Uganda last week. It had been detected in recent days from a Ugandan national who had returned from a visit to India.
Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has warned India’s intense outbreak was a reminder that Africa must stay vigilant.