What you need to know:
- The passengers were not tested for Covid-19 amid the emergence of the new Omicron variant.
- World Health Organization said this variant had been detected “at faster rates than previous surges in infection.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) has revealed that four passengers travelling from South Africa have tested positive for the coronavirus.
This comes two days after a Nation investigation revealed that six passenger flights and one cargo plane were allowed to land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) from South Africa on Monday this week.
The passengers were not tested for Covid-19 amid the emergence of the new Omicron variant that experts say is six times more transmissible than the Delta version.
“On Tuesday, at around 5pm a flight landed from South Africa and I can assure you tests were done. We have so far tested 300 passengers, with the results showing that four tested positive for coronavirus and they are now in quarantine,” MoH told the Nation.
“What has happened has happened. We can only move forward and ensure our issues are fixed and therefore must test moving forward.”
Officials assured the public that they are now following Health Director-General Patrick Amoth’s directive issued last Friday that passengers from Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Hong Kong be quarantined and tested several times.
“For those coming from South Africa, we first do the rapid antigen test. If you turn positive, we do a PCR test, which is called the confirmatory test, and if you still turn positive your samples now get sequenced,” MoH said.
“We are starting to generate data and in another week or two we will share our genomic surveillance findings.”
Genome sequencing is a laboratory process of determining the fingerprint of an organism.
Experts say mutations can result in a new “lineage” of the virus that is not the same as a new strain, and by tracking these lineages scientists can determine how a virus spreads through communities or populations.
For example, lineages like the Taita Taveta one can dominate in certain populations either because it was the first to “arrive” (known as founder effect) or fitter than the rest of the others in circulation.
Scientists say the Omicron variant has 32 mutations.
“The variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern,” the World Health Organization (WHO) explained.
“The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.
Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.”
The WHO said this variant had been detected “at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that (it) may have a growth advantage”.
Data has shown that Omicron has had many mutations in the genetic make-up responsible for the spike protein, said Dr Catherine Kyobutungi, executive director of the African Population Health Research Centre.
“It is not impossible to test everyone and take them to quarantine, at their cost, as community transmission has already happened in over 20 countries like in the UK and others where the new variant exists,” she said.
“Let’s not single out South Africa and southern Africa countries alone.”
Dr Kyobutungi added that Kenya should assume that Omicron is already here.
“We have seen over 25 changes in the genetic make-up of the protein, so the problem is that this virus may be structured differently from the Delta variant as well as all the other variants,” she said.
“Now almost all vaccines in the market have been targeting the spike proteins, so if the spike protein becomes structured differently, then there is the concern that this particular variant may render vaccinations useless overtime.”
She added: “Rendering vaccines useless means taking off that layer of protection.”