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Kenya must act to forestall any coronavirus infection

By Gathu Kaara
Monday, February 24th, 2020
Kenya's ambassador to China Sarah Serem

The new coronavirus is spreading. In China, it continues its relentless march despite the drastic measures the country is putting in place.

Beyond China, it is spreading to other countries where new infections are now being reported, while in others, it has begun to take root.

Latest information indicates that more than 75,000 people in China are infected, and some 1,100 abroad have contracted the virus. Fresh infections across China is a clear indication that the neck of the infection is yet to be broken.

The number of infections in South Korea doubled to over 600 last week, while Iran diagnosed it first case. South Korea is now scrambling to lock the gate while the proverbial horse has already bolted. 

So far, there has not been any cases diagnosed in Kenya. However, there are very worrying trends in the country.

First, after public outrage, the Kenya Airways suspended all direct flights to China. But anybody who wants to come to Kenya from China simply needs to board Ethiopian Airlines and connect to Kenya through Addis Ababa.

According to travellers on the Addis Ababa-Nairobi loop, the flights are filled with Chinese travellers returning to Nairobi.

In effect, those planes are now weaponised, and one person in such a flight who is already infected could end up infecting all on board, who then land in Nairobi to mingle with other people.

 In effect, the suspending of KQ flights was an act in futility. What’s more, Chinese nationals who arrive from China are allowed to roam the country at will.

There has been no official intervention by the government to follow up people returning and keeping tabs on their movements. This is a disaster in the making.

The government multi-disciplinary team that works on emergencies must immediately institute a policy of quarantine for travellers coming from China.

It is ironic that the government sees the continued confinement of Kenyans in China’s Wuhan city by the lockdown there as the best way to ensure they stay safe and do not return to infect other Kenyans, yet it has no problem with Chinese nationals coming to Kenya and going about their business as usual. What is the logic being applied here? Clearly, somebody is sleeping on the job!

Kenya cannot afford to have even a single coronavirus infection in the country at all. Have we forgotten the devastation brought by the Ebola virus almost sent a whole country—Liberia—back to the stone age? Government officials must stop joking.

The World Health Organisation has warned that countries could face a serious problem if they failed to “hit hard now” against the coronavirus. If the chaos in China currently due to the virus is anything to go by, then Kenya with a weak healthcare system  cannot afford to have even a single case. 

The lax surveillance and safeguards in place are worrying. The chaos in China continues despite the Asian country, in its usual efficient and highly focused manner, putting in place drastic measures to contain the virus. Does Kenya have the resources, personnel and political will to deal with the virus? The way that the government has responded to the locust invasion offers little hope. 

The government must act as a matter of urgency. Many countries have banned travellers from China, and one fails to understand what Kenya is waiting for. It is not a hostile act, it is simply a necessary and temporary measure to assist contain the virus. 

China has taken drastic measures itself, especially at home, because they fully understand the epidemic poses a threat to the very integrity of its social, political and economic ecosystem.

Those already on their way from China must be quarantined immediately they arrive at the airport for a minimum two weeks before being allowed to roam the country.

The government must not wait until the country starts dealing with the devastating effects of treatment, containment, burying, and massive panic that will hit the country if even one single case of coronavirus is diagnosed locally. 

Thy must act now to forestall this doomsday scenario.

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