Record Covid-19 cases as Kagwe warns against fake certificates

Covid-19 test

A health worker collects a sample for a Covid-19 test from a resident of Kibera in Nairobi on October 18, 2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Unscrupulous government officials are believed to have been colluding with brokers to issue fake virus-free certificates to international travellers.
  • But as the Nation found out, for between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000, those willing to take shortcuts have the chance of getting a certificate on the spot without being subjected to a test.

The country yesterday recorded the highest number of Covid-19 infections in a day after 1,554 people tested positive from a sample size of 9,389.

This raised the total caseload to 81, 656 as cumulative tests done hit 870, 950. Of the cases, 1,526 are Kenyans while 28 are foreigners.

Fourteen patients, on the other hand, died of the virus, bringing the number of deaths to 1,441. Another 599 recovered from the disease pushing the total recoveries to 54,125.

While announcing the figures in Malindi yesterday where he met legislators over health bills and policies, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe decried an emerging trend where unscrupulous people were trying to beat the system by obtaining fake Covid-free certificates and warned that stern action would be taken against the culprits.

“We have lately noted a trend where some people are trying to cheat the system. Our port health officials are on the alert… I urge travellers not to play with the law, only to become part of the statistics,” he said

A lapse at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in recent months could have allowed hundreds of travellers with fake Covid-free certificates to fly from Nairobi to international destinations.

International travellers

Unscrupulous government officials are believed to have been colluding with brokers to issue fake virus-free certificates to international travellers — a requirement by health authorities in many countries across the world — putting Kenya at risk of contributing to the global spread of Covid-19.

However, it appears the problem of fake certificates is becoming a major headache across the world with Brazil, France and the United Kingdom reporting in recent weeks that they had busted criminal rings selling the crucial documents in the black market.

Since the resumption of international travel, most countries have been demanding all those arriving in their territories to have a Covid-free certificate as proof of having been tested and found negative.

The certificate, which is given after testing negative to a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), has to be done 72 hours before one gains entry into the country that demands it. Some airlines even demand to see the certificate before one is allowed to board so that they don’t incur the cost of returning a passenger who has been denied entry.

In Kenya, it was only a matter of time before brokers took advantage of the August 1 resumption of international travel.

Ideally, those travelling to outside Kenya are supposed to check into an approved medical facility and get the test done. It costs Sh1,000 to get the test at a government facility but private hospitals charge up to Sh8,000.

Although the financial cost may not be an issue for many of the travellers — who will after all have spent thousands of shillings on air tickets and other expenses — it is the hustle of queuing in hospitals and waiting for the results that has created a booming black market for fake certificates.

It takes more than 24 hours for the results of a PCR test to come out. Furthermore, there is the unknown element of one not being sure whether the result will turn out positive or negative.

Take shortcuts

But as the Nation found out, for between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000, those willing to take shortcuts have the chance of getting a certificate on the spot without being subjected to a test.

The fact that the real certificate is printed on an A4 without any security features apart from a stamp belonging to the hospital that issues it and the coat of arms has made it even easier for brokers to come up with fake document.

The certificates we established are mostly being given in coordination with officials of government hospitals, the same facilities that are supposed to be leading from the front in the fight against a virus that is straining health systems across the world. Nairobi’s Koinange Street too has a number of offices where travellers can get fake Covid-free certificates.

Worse, there is no point at the JKIA where outbound travellers meet with Ministry of Health officials who would have otherwise ascertained whether the certificates being used to travel are genuine or fake.

Covid-free certificates

Interestingly, there are Health ministry officials at the international arrivals section of the airport to ascertain whether those arriving in Kenya have the acceptable body temperature and Covid-free certificates.

As things stand, the job of determining the validity of Covid-free certificates has since the resumption of international air travel been left to airline officials. An outbound traveller, as the Nation found out, first presents a Covid-free certificate together with the plane ticket and passport at the check-in counter. The traveller then presents it for a second time before receiving a boarding pass.

The results of this thriving syndicate in Kenya came out in the open on Thursday after it emerged that Kenya was among 13 countries whose citizens had been banned from traveling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“As per the latest circular released by the Immigration Department Entry Permit applications for individuals outside the country including applications for new employment visas and new visit visa (long, short and tourist) will be suspended until further notice for nationalities from the following countries,” said as memo issued by Dubai Airport Free zone on November 18.

Other countries whose visas were banned include Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Tunisia, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Somalia.

The UAE, home to the famous business and tourism cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, re-opened its borders to international travellers on August 1. An estimated 50,000 Kenyans live and work in the UAE especially in the security, hospitality, construction, medical, transport and engineering sectors.

Due to its geographical position, the UAE is a transit point for trade headed to most African countries from the United States, Europe and Asia. But unlike Kenya which only requires visitors to present Covid-free certificates on arrival, the oil rich federation of seven Emirates requires visitors to undergo a mandatory test on arrival.

“You may need to take another Covid‑19 PCR test on arrival. If you take a test at the airport, you must remain in your hotel or residence until you receive the test result,” says UAE airline Emirates

Sources told the Nation that dozens of people flying from Nairobi armed with Covid-free certificates were testing positive upon landing at the Dubai International Airport. It is this anomaly that eventually led to the UAE banning all new visa applications from Kenyans.

Pakistan, which was on the same list, immediately said it thought the ban was related to Covid-19 as the Kenyan government chose to remain silent on why its citizens have been banned from travelling to its fourth largest trading partner.

And instead of explaining to Kenyans why they won’t be able to travel to the UAE, the Kenyan government has launched a crackdown arresting travellers found with fake Covid-free certificates. The exercise which begun on Monday, netted 35 people up until Wednesday, all of whom have appeared in court.

On Thursday,  28 others were arrested and are still recording statements together with 21 who were arrested on Friday. “The reason for the fake certificates is that people are going to backrooms and non-gazetted testing centres to obtain the documents. They are being duped by brokers and thugs,” says an official from the ministry, who requested anonymity.

Additional reporting by Anita Chepkoech and Angela Oketch. [email protected]


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