Kenyans seek assurance over Covid variant

Tuesday, November 30th, 2021 12:00 | By

The Ministry of Health yesterday called off a scheduled news conference to outline measures it intended to put in place to check the spread of a new and deadlier Covid-19 variant as fear gripped the country over its emergence.

Officials at Afya House, who declined to go on record said the press briefing, called by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe was to explain the country’s preparedness against the new Omicron Covid-19 variant ahead of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation address today.

It later emerged that Kagwe called off the media engagement as it coincided with the 2nd special session of the World Health Assembly, which he was scheduled to address via video link.

“Waziri (minister) is attending the World Health Assembly; it is virtual for the Health ministers across the globe. However, I am told the press briefing will be held tomorrow,” said a senior ministry official.

Kenyans on social media expressed fears that the government was doing little or nothing to secure its borders against the spread of the new variant.

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This is after activist Boniface Mwangi took to social media to claim that a flight carrying passengers from South Africa, where the new variant is said to have originated from, had been allowed into the country.

“Our flight was delayed for two hours. We got to Nairobi and @KenyaAirports claimed they weren’t aware that there was a @KenyaAirways flight from South Africa. So there isn’t even a nurse to do tests. KQ transit passengers will miss flights. This level of incompetence is criminal,” he wrote.

The fears were heightened after it emerged that Rwanda and Angola were the latest countries, to suspend flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.

The United Kingdom and most of the European Union member countries, as well as the US, Japan and Israel, have also banned flights from South Africa.

The government however downplayed the fears with Health Principal Secretary (PS), Susan Mochache ruling out the possibility of closing the country’s borders any time soon due to the new variant.

Mochache told journalists at Afya House that the ministry has already moved to heighten surveillance at all the points of entry, and ensured that any person coming into the country from those countries where the variant has been identified, are properly screened and show proof of full vaccination.

Such passengers, Mochache said, should also have done a PCR test in the last 96 hours preceding their flight to the country.

“We should be science-led rather than just making knee-jerk reactions in as far as closing our borders is concerned,” she stated.

Mochache said the government is doing all it can to prevent this variant from coming near the country’s territory.

“We are working hard to ensure that the logistical issues happen smoothly and seamlessly at the points of entry,” she said, acknowledging that the highest priority for the government right now is to properly secure the ports of entry.

“We continue to appeal to Kenyans to get vaccinated because that is the only sure way of protection against any Covid-19 variant,” she said, as many Kenyans continue to press the government to come clear on what it is doing to stop the new variant from entering the country.

Mochache added that the government is determined to ensure Kenyans operate in an environment that is not hampered by an economic depression as a result of the pandemic.

The new and deadly variant which was detected last week in South Africa has been identified in Europe, two in the UK, two in Germany, one in Belgium and another one in Italy, while a suspected case was found in the Czech Republic. The new variant carries 32 mutations which facilitate its faster spread.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also called for restraint, noting that it is not yet clear whether Omicron is easily spread from one person to another compared to other variants.

“WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on our existing countermeasures, including vaccines,” the UN health body said on its website.

Yesterday, the UN health body criticised countries that have imposed travel bans over the emergence of the variant.

WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution asked countries to keep borders open saying there is no evidence that the new Omicron variant is more dangerous than existing Covid-19 variants.

“While preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalisation in South Africa, this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of a specific infection with Omicron,” the body explained in a statement.

“Since the Omicron variant has now been detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” she stated.

Last evening, the BBC reported that South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned travel bans enacted against his country and its neighbours over the new variant.

Ramaphosa, the reports stated, was “deeply disappointed” by the action, which he described as unjustified, and called for the bans to be urgently lifted.

His Health Minister Joe Phaahla according to the BBC said there was “absolutely no need to panic”.

In Mombasa, health officials assured that they were fully prepared to handle Covid-19 patients in case of any spike as a result of the new variant.
The officials said the county has established three facilities that could be quickly converted to isolation facilities if the need arose.

County Chief Officer of Health Khadija Shikely said currently, Tudor Sub County hospital is fully equipped with oxygen piping capable of handling Covid-19 patients.

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