After abrupt ban on Kenyan arrivals, UK tries to soothe angry Nairobi


Unused check-in desks at Heathrow airport Terminal 5 in west London on September 9, 2019.

Photo credit: AFP

What you need to know:

  • Sources say UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will seek to explain the stance to Kenyan diplomats, but will not rescind the decision meant to “protect public health.”

A decision by the British government to ban travellers from Kenya from entering its territory, to tame Covid-19 cases, is eliciting anger among Kenyans, with many terming it discriminatory.

But London argues “scientific evidence” based on tests, which showed a rise in positive cases among arriving passengers from Nairobi.

More than 30 per cent of the cases were new variants of the virus first detected in South Africa, the UK claims.

Sources told the Nation on Friday that UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will seek to explain the stance to Kenyan diplomats, but will not rescind the decision meant to “protect public health".

Deadlier variant

According to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and development Office (FCDO), a significant number of arrivals from Nairobi have tested positive, with nearly a third of the positive cases carrying the B.1.351 variant which originated from South Africa.

The indication may mean Kenya has not been strict on travellers from South Africa and other regions where the variant was detected.

On Friday, the UK added Kenya, Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh on its ‘Red List’ of countries where arrivals are refused entry into the UK.

The directive means visitors who have either transited through or departed from Kenya in the past 10 days cannot enter the UK.  It means all travellers, except nationals and residents, arriving from Nairobi will be turned away at the airport.

“From 0400 UK time on 9 April, visitors who have been in or transited through Kenya in the previous 10 days will be refused entry into England,” said an update from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

British, Irish and third world country nationals with residence rights arriving from these countries will be required to quarantine in a government-approved facility for 10 days.

Flights from these countries will not be banned but the restrictions mean only nationals of the UK and legal residents will be allowed into the UK, and will be forced to quarantine for 10 days, during which they will be compelled to take two tests of Covid-19.  The UK demands testing on the second and eight days of quarantine.

Those who test negative after 10 days will be allowed to leave the specified quarantined centres.

Retaliation unlikely

At least 500 people travel to the UK every week from Kenya, making it one of the most stable flight routes out of Nairobi.

The ban by the UK ran counter to Kenya’s own decision last December when it resolved not to bar UK arrivals after a new variant of the virus was discovered in the UK.

Health minister Mutahi Kagwe said at the time available measures were sufficient to control infections.

“We have very strict travel measures with the UK, which the US and the Europeans did not have. We are carefully observing every passenger travelling from there,” Mr Kagwe said, after 53 countries temporarily banned travellers from the UK.

“We will, therefore, make decisions based on scientific advice as well as any additional advice from WHO. We are not part of the EU (European Union).”

With the new directive, it is still unlikely that Kenya could retaliate.

But some Kenyans accused the UK of “medical racism".

Of the 39 countries on the Red List, none is in Europe. Most are in Africa and Asia, with others in South America.

“Once the US, UK and EU reach herd-immunity by June, it will close itself against Africa, Latin America, Middle East and Asia. It will be medical racism,” argued lawyer Donald Kipkorir.

Timing suspicious

Many of the citizens responding to the announced ban questioned the timing of the restrictions, days after British soldiers were accused of bringing in a new variant from the UK on their field training mission in Kenya.

The FCDO says, however, that the measures are only temporary and that a risk assessment will be done to review the restriction.

"The travel restrictions will only remain in place whilst the level or risk is assessed to justify these measures," the UK said.

It noted that several countries, including Portugal and Mauritius, have been removed from the Read List following heightened measures against the virus.

The UK gave the example of increased genomic surveillance to reduce the risk posed by variants that have raised particular concern.

The UK initially required proof of a negative test to allow visitors into its territory, but it later created the Red List of countries considered high risk regions.

Kenya had been spared the wrath, even as Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burundi and Somalia were listed.


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