A spot check at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) on Tuesday revealed a state of confusion on the day that health officials quarantined a male student who arrived in the country from China with coronavirus-like symptoms.
The tension at Kenya's largest referral hospital is borne out of the government’s silence on the situation.
At KNH, the scene was marked by a mix of scared staff and blissfully oblivious patients.
“You know we have been dismissing this coronavirus as something that should only worry people in China. But it’s now here,” said a vividly worried staff at the facility.
While some security guards stationed at the Infectious Diseases Unit could be seen wearing face masks, patients and staff at the country’s largest referral facility mingled freely without any protective gear. Further, there were no government-led prevention campaign posters nor warning signs about the coronavirus anywhere at the hospital.
The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) has called on the Health ministry to provide adequate protective gear.
“The first protection against the coronavirus is ensuring that health workers on the frontline of response are protected,” said Dr Ouma Oluga, the union’s secretary-general. Dr Oluga advised medics to exercise caution while handling patients with flu-like symptoms.
The student, who has not been named, is the first person to be tested for the pneumonia-like virus in the country and the second case in Africa.
In Ethiopia, the BBC reported that up to four people suspected to have the virus have been quarantined in Addis Ababa.
Officials from the Department of Disease Surveillance and Response Unit visited the student, said to be in his 20s, at the KNH’s Infectious Diseases Unit (IDU) where he is currently in isolation.
The officials collected samples from the patient, which were taken to the National Influenza Centre for testing. It’s, however ,not clear when preliminary results will be out.
According to the Health ministry, the patient left Wuhan City, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, on January 20 for Zhangjiajie City.
On January 27, he left for Nairobi through Guangzhou and Bangkok, Thailand. He arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) yesterday at 6.15am.
“On the morning of January 28, the Ministry of Health was cautioned about a passenger aboard Flight KQ887 from Guangzhou who, upon screening on arrival, was found to have a fever. The traveller reported he had not been in contact with a known case of the novel coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV),” said Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki.
In a statement, the outgoing CS said the patient was immediately isolated in a temporary holding room at the JKIA and later transferred to the Infectious Diseases Unit at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) for admission.
“On examination, the suspected case was found to be in stable condition with all vital signs within normal ranges. The suspected case remains in the isolation facility at KNH while investigations and laboratory tests are undertaken,” Mrs Kariuki added.
Kenya Airways, which operates non-stop flights between Nairobi and Guangzhou, confirmed that one of their passengers who had travelled on Flight KQ887 from Guangzhou was quarantined at KNH as a precautionary measure.
“The decision to quarantine the passenger was reached by the port health authorities stationed at the JKIA,” the statement read.
Through a live-streamed press briefing, the African Union said reports of the virus on the continent “remained unconfirmed”.
As the number of cases of affected, infected and dead people rose across the world, Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) director John Nkengasong activated the agency’s incident management system.
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Unlike other coronaviruses, this particular one is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
The virus has infected over 2,798 people and killed 80. Cases have been detected in Thailand, Japan, the Republic of South Korea, USA, France and Australia, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Several African governments have issued statements targeting their nationals abroad and at home to raise awareness about the virus, including Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa.
Most have appealed for calm as they increase surveillance and health checks at national ports of entry.