UK Covid ‘Red List’ dominated by African nations, raising concern

Jane Marriott

British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott and Deputy President William Ruto in Nairobi. The ambassador says her country values its relationship with Kenya. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The United Arab Emirates is perhaps the most prominent country in the Red List.
  • By yesterday, there were more than 4.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

The list of the 39 countries on the United Kingdom’s restricted travel list that now includes Kenya is dominated by nations in Africa and South America.

No European country is included despite the continent recording tens of thousands of new coronavirus infections daily.

There are 19 African countries on the list and 14 from South America.

Asia and the Middle East have three countries each.

The United Arab Emirates is perhaps the most prominent country in the Red List.

The UK pegs its restrictions on the spread of new Covid-19 variants in the countries and their inability to screen them.

The most notable are the variants first reported in South Africa and Brazil, which are said to be substantially different from the initial virus in the way they spread and the damage they cause to the body.

The vaccines

However, the UK itself has a known variant called B.1.1.7, which was on Wednesday reported as the most common strain of Covid-19 in the United States, a country not included in the Red List.

US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing that the variant led to a rise in severe infections, especially in younger people.

The UK variant was identified in Nanyuki among British soldiers who jetted into the country early this year.

The UK said including Kenya in the list was due to the realisation that a number of people travelling from Nairobi test positive for the virus on the second day after arriving in Britain.

It added that a significant portion of those who test positive have the South African variant, known as B.1.351.

“An average of 550 people fly from Kenya to the UK every week. Nearly a third of those testing positive have been carrying the B.1.351 variant,” the statement read.

It implied that Kenya is not strict on movement people to and from southern Africa and other regions emerging variants have been detected.

By yesterday, there were more than 4.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

The country has recorded more than 127,000 Covid-19 fatalities. 

Kenya on the other hand has registered 145,000 infections and 2,330 deaths.

More than 31.9 million people in the UK have had their first dose of coronavirus vaccine while six million have had their second.

Every adult in the UK is expected to be given the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of July.

Kenya has for her part vaccinated more than 422,000 people.

In terms of deaths per million, the UK stands at 1,684 compared to Kenya’s 42.

And in terms of infections per 100,000 people, the figure for some British towns like Barnsley is 148.

The number in Doncaster is 144 while Sheffeld’s is 137. Kenya’s average is 14.

France records 415 Covid-19  cases per 100,000 people.

Acting Health Director-Genral Patrick Amoth said between January 28 and March 5, the Kilifi-based Kemri centre sequenced 55 samples. Out of that, a total of 19 were variants of concern.

“Genome sequencing is tedious and expensive since even the reagents cost a lot. We, however, got the variants from the few samples,” Dr Amoth said.

At the Kemri centre in Kisumu, UK variants were detected from British soldiers tested.

Dr Amoth said at a past event that the South African variant was mostly detected from samples taken on the Kenya-Tanzania border and in people with a history of travelling to and from that country.

"Scientific decision"

The reason for the travel ban has aroused curiosity among Kenyans. The threat of new variants from Kenya to the UK is low, basing on the number of travellers.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that 41,061 passengers left Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for London between January 2020 and January 2021, translating to an average of 3,169 a month or 792 a week.

Within the same period, some 54,744 passengers flew from London to Nairobi, an average of 4,213 a month or 1,053 a week.

UK High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Mariott said in a newspaper commentary on Saturday that the ban “is not a reflection of the importance we place on our relationship with Kenya”.

“It was a scientific decision. Other strong friends have also gone on the list,” she wrote, saying Kenya has fared better than the UK in dealing with the virus.

One of the solutions to the row proposed by British and Kenyan officials is rapid testing at airports as it happens in Ghana.

But as both countries have not agreed on the model, it could take weeks to set up such a centre.

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