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Drama at Athi River estate over coronavirus scare

Friday February 28 2020

The Chinese national had been brought to the estate from the airport by a taxi driver wearing a face mask.

The Chinese national had been brought to the estate from the airport by a taxi driver wearing a face mask. PHOTO | COURTESY 

HARRY MISIKO
By HARRY MISIKO
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Tension has gripped residents in Athi River after some of the Chinese passengers who landed in Nairobi on Wednesday quarantined themselves in the industrial town located 30 kilometres from the capital.

On Wednesday evening, Machakos public health officials were called in to calm nerves at the town’s Sidai estate after one of the passengers sought to isolate himself there.

Mr Qi Xiao Li, 35, who travelled from China’s Anhui Province, had struck a deal with a colleague who lives in the estate to help him stay in isolation for 14 days as ordered by Kenya’s Health ministry and the Chinese embassy in Nairobi.

“He is said to have been brought to the estate from the (Jomo Kenyatta International) Airport by an Uber taxi driver wearing a face mask and ushered in by his colleagues, all in masks,” said Mr Lucas Mwove, the chief officer, Public Health Machakos County.

“The occupier of house No 312 moved to stay in his place of work at Athi River Business Park to create room for quarantining the visitor.”

But there was a problem: other tenants got wind of the plan and were not ready to roll out the welcome mat for the man who works in one of the industrial parks in Athi River.

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They protested and demanded that he leave.

“We calmed down the estate management who wanted to evict him from estate,” Mr Mwove said in a statement.

According to Mr Kennedy Kyalo, the estate chairman, they protested because of the casual manner in which the government let in 239 passengers who landed at JKIA aboard a China Southern Airlines plane.

“We are worried. Everybody is worried. We just don’t understand how they could let them in like that,” he told the Nation on Friday.

The protesting tenants agreed to let Mr Qi stay at the estate for 14 days after Mr Mwove’s team took charge of the situation and promised that the foreigner would be monitored.

The public health team, for instance ordered security guards at the estate to ensure the worker does not leave the house.

On Friday, public health officers returned to the estate as they stepped up their surveillance in the town named after the Athi River, which passes through it.

Athi River is one of the areas with high Chinese population in Kenya because most of the firms building roads and other infrastructure in the country have set up their industrial parks there.

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy has denied social media claims that another passenger who landed on Wednesday has been roaming in Athi River.

“After verification with the Chinese companies and diaspora groups, we wish to inform the public that there is only one female Chinese national who stays in that estate and arrived in Kenya on Feb 26,” it said in a statement.

“She followed the instructions issued by the Ministry of Health and the Embassy, and quarantined herself in her apartment upon arrival. The other Chinese national seen wearing a mask walking around is her colleague who had gone to deliver daily necessities to her.”

The woman, whose name was not revealed, “is in good condition”.

But the embassy protested what it termed as “irresponsible and even racist remarks” from MPs who grilled Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo on the handing on the outbreak.

While the embassy will continue to require all Chinese nationals entering Kenya to follow the 14-day quarantine instructions, it said, “we call upon a rational and scientific approach towards the Chinese community and firmly object any irresponsible and even racist remarks as seen from one of the MPs today (February 27)."