Kenya says it is happy the ‘red list’ nightmare for travellers to the United Kingdom is over, even though authorities must now quickly negotiate an acceptable type of certificate of vaccination.
The Nation understands that Kenyan authorities have sought further clarification from the UK on why vaccines issued in Kenya will still not be recognised in the UK when it starts admitting travellers based on inoculation status against Covid-19 next month.
A diplomat familiar with the matter in Nairobi told the Nation.Africa on Sunday that Kenya has inquired from the UK why it had not yet approved Kenya’s vaccination even when it contributed to some of the doses issued here.
“We have raised the issue with them and talks will continue so we can get an amicable solution,” the senior diplomat said in Nairobi without providing timelines.
“Kenya specifically asked about this matter, pointing to the fact that more than a million of these AZ doses had come from the UK.” The UK donated to batches of vaccines to Kenya, through the Covax facility, totalling nearly 1 million doses.
The issue of vaccination certification will be important for travellers because the UK will be launching a new system of admission next month, which will vet passengers based on their travel history and vaccination status, rather than merely positive or negative Covid-19 diagnosis.
In the meantime, from Wednesday at 4am this week, Kenya will officially be removed from the ‘Red List’ of countries considered too risky for Covid-19 and be placed in the Amber category. The decision could ease cost of travel because there will be no compulsory lodging at hotels designated for quarantine. Instead, travellers from Kenya will be required to isolate at their place of residence and take Covid-19 tests.
It was part of UK’s changes that will, by October 4, include an abolishment of the current ‘traffic lights’ system, which categorises countries as Red, Amber or Green, depending on their Covid-19 load.
“It is great to get to the finish line on this rather unhappy episode. Wheels of travel and trade can be accelerated in earnest,” Mr Manoah Esipisu, Kenya’s high commissioner to the UK told Nation.Africa on Saturday, a day after the decision was announced on Friday.
“Tourism both ways can get going again without the threat of exorbitant quarantine fees. Students can visit their parents in Kenya again and vice versa, and researchers can reach out to partners in both countries again.”
Being on the Red List had meant that travellers were generally barred from entering the UK from Kenya. But those who did had to pay for hotels designated by the government to hold people for quarantine, during which they had to take two Covid-19 tests.
But even as Kenya celebrates, the vaccination categories could still be a burden, for now. A statement issued by the UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the new system would ease costs for travellers by removing compulsory quarantine, replacing it with isolation at places of choice and being favourable to those fully vaccinated.
“If you are fully vaccinated, but do not qualify under these fully vaccinated rules, you must follow the non-vaccinated rules,” the statement said of those mainly from Africa.
From October 4, some passengers may not require Covid-19 tests before departing for the UK, but have to carry a certificate recognised in the UK. From the end of October, fully vaccinated passengers “and those with an approved vaccine from a select group of non-red countries will be able to replace their day 2 test with a cheaper lateral flow test, reducing the cost of tests on arrival into England.”
As from Sunday, people vaccinated under vaccine programmes in the UK, Europe, US or those vaccinated under UK’s overseas programmes will be given privileges when the new system starts. Others fully vaccinated with Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BionTech, Moderna or Janssen (Johnson &Johnson) will also be given those exemptions if inoculated by government programmes. But the UK says vaccine certificates for these doses will be accepted only if from Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan (where there has been a mix, as well as those vaccinated under trial programmes in the US, Canada and Australia and have a proof of participation.
It means that even doses given in India, the initial source of AstraZeneca vaccines (locally known as Covishield) for Africa, will be unrecognised. Also unrecognised are Pfizer, Moderna, Sinopharm and Johnson & Johnson, all of which are being administered in Kenya, and donated by the US and the UK among other countries.
The official in Nairobi did say the government had been pushing for certificate recognition from as early as July, when President Uhuru Kenyatta visited London for an education conference he was presiding over jointly with British PM Boris Johnson.
Under the new rules, by the end of October, the UK says isolation will be required for those who test positive, but they will not pay for confirmatory tests done after their isolation is over. The test will be to help identify new variants of Covid-19.
For the African continent, only Kenya and Egypt will be off the Red List from Wednesday. But the vaccination criteria means most Africans will be treated as unvaccinated.
“Testing for unvaccinated passengers from non-red countries will include pre-departure tests, day 2 and day 8 PCR tests. Test-to-release remains an option to reduce self-isolation period,” the guidelines say. Passengers will pay for the tests before arriving, and must also fill a locator form for tracing.
Kenya was placed on the Red List in May and has remained there since, in spite of protestations and initial retaliation by Nairobi.