British soldiers in Kenya

Military vehicles drive during a simulated military exercise of the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) together with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) on the ol-Daiga ranch in Laikipia on March 26, 2018. 

| File | AFP

How British soldiers brought UK deadlier virus to Kenya

A team of British soldiers who tested positive for coronavirus shortly after jetting into the country in January were in fact infected with the new variant circulating in the UK, the Health ministry has confirmed.

Last month, a number of the soldiers posted to the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) were rushed to hospital after suffering from Covid-19 symptoms following an outbreak of the virus at their training camp in Nanyuki.

UK variant

According to reports, two soldiers were airlifted by helicopter to a top private health facility in Nairobi for care while another pair was driven for four hours to the same facility in an ambulance.

On Friday, Patrick Amoth, acting health director-general, said results showed that the soldiers tested positive for the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7.

“The UK variant came with British troops who came to train in Kenya. And because that was a localised area, it was very easy to contain,” Dr Amoth told Nation.Africa ON Thursday.

He further noted that the government had been working to ensure that there is no spill-over of the variants to the surrounding local communities.

This, he said, was achieved through a total lockdown imposed on the troops and testing of the soldiers and locals in the surrounding neighbourhood.

The presence of the UK variant in the country puts health authorities on the edge, given the fresh wave of infections as captured in the recent daily updates.

Cases in Kenya

On Thursday, confirmed cases rose to 107,329 following 528 new positive tests from 6,291 samples.

“This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says of the B.1.17 variant

“In January 2021, experts in the UK reported that this variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variant viruses, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding.”

This comes after the Africa CDC in an official Covid-19 brief indicated that the presence of the South African variants to be present in   Kenya and nine other African Union (AU) member states.

“Ten Member States have reported the presence of the 501Y.V2 variant (B.1.351): Botswana, Comoros, DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, The Gambia, and Zambia, “ the official brief stated.

It also indicated that nine-member states reported the presence of the 501Y.V1 variant (lineage B.1.1.7): DR Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Gambia, and Libya.

A variant is a form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard.

Last year, scientists at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) warned that a distinct variant of the coronavirus, entirely different from those detected in the UK and South Africa could be circulating in the country.

In a past interview with Nation, the institute disclosed that available genomic data drawn from sequencing of 205 nasal genomes specimens sampled from the eight counties between June and October in 2020 identified 16 circulating lineages.

The team noted that while four variants have   continued to predominate infections in the country since the first case was reported in March, the other 12 have not expanded locally to give rise to many cases at least as of October 2020.

At the same time, the Health ministry yesterday said it had sent teams at border points with additional testing capacities— including rapid antigen tests, to stop any further importation of cases.

“We are working with government administration officers and ‘nyumba kumi ‘to ensure that anybody who comes through any unofficial entry points is tested, if they test positive then we will do sequencing either in Kisumu or Kilifi,” the director-general explained.