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Kenya warns against travel to China over deadly coronavirus

Monday January 27 2020

China virus inspection

Security personnel wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in Wuhan, check the temperature of people with an advanced thermo camera (C) at a subway station entrance in Beijing on January 27, 2020. PHOTO | NICOLAS ASFOURI | AFP 

ELIZABETH MERAB
By ELIZABETH MERAB
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The Foreign Affairs ministry has advised Kenyans against all but necessary travel to China as a precaution, following the quick spread of a virus that has left at least 81 people dead so far.

In a statement on Monday, Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau emphasised the warning in the case of Wuhan, the epicentre of the new coronavirus.

The deadly virus that has prompted travel restrictions in China is sending shockwaves throughout Asia's tourism industry, which has become increasingly reliant on growing numbers of Chinese visitors.

At least 81 people have died since the new strain emerged in Wuhan City, and millions are now under an effective quarantine, with all flights in and out of the city grounded and a ban on Chinese tour groups domestically and abroad.

The travel advisory further impacts on China’s trade and travel, which has recently taken a hit following the outbreak of the virus in December last year.

Kenya has big business relations with China, where Kenya Airways operates at least two non-stop flights between the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Nairobi and Guangzhou.

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“Kenyans are urged to avoid non-essential travel to Wuhan until the situation there is contained. Those on essential travels must comply with additional screening measures that have been put in place by authorities,” said Mr Macharia.

UNDER QUARANTINE

He also said that the embassy in China had issued an alert to Kenyans living in the country, and especially those residing in Wuhan, Hubei Province, to take high precautions to protect themselves.

At least 48 million people were Saturday put under quarantine in 15 Chinese cities in central Hubei province to stop the spread of the pneumonia-like 2019-nCoV virus.

“The embassy is aware that there are 85 Kenyans in Wuhan, who are registered with the Embassy, and is closely monitoring the situation. We encourage unregistered Kenyans to register as a matter of importance,” Mr Macharia said in a statement sent to newsrooms.

Mr Macharia further advised that Kenyans in China should immediately contact the Beijing Embassy for advice and consular assistance.

However, anyone infected with the virus and is exhibiting symptoms should report to the nearest hospital.

Although no one has yet tested positive for coronavirus in the country or Africa, there have been constant online calls for the government to reassure the public that the Ministry of Health can cope with an outbreak when it is already struggling with the ongoing malaria outbreak in Rift Valley region.

SCHOOL SUSPENDED

PS Macharia on Monday denied claims that the government is not proactive enough in protecting its citizens from the new respiratory virus ripping through China and 12 other countries.

According to Mr Macharia, the embassy in Beijing has been in constant touch with all Kenyans in the affected regions.

The virus is estimated to have killed 80 people, with 2,744 others confirmed to have been infected. There are 5,794 suspected cases.

Since the disease can spread from human-to-human, the Chinese government ordered a lockdown in central China, with a travel ban issued in areas where the virus was first encountered.

To contain the virus, authorities in Hubei province suspended exams calendar indefinitely and postponed the opening of universities and colleges.

As such, Mr Macharia advised Kenyan students studying in Hubei to stay away from Wuhan City until further advised.

“The affected universities will notify students of new opening dates through a general circular in the press.

Students should also keep checking with their respective institutions and the embassy on return dates,” he added.

EMERGENT THREAT

Countries already affected by the virus have begun evacuating their citizens as they scramble to protect them.

Kenyan students based in different cities in China had expressed fears that the government has been slow off the mark to inform them of measures put in place to protect them.

Researchers in China identified the mysterious pneumonia-like virus, known provisionally as 2019-nCoV in early January, as a new coronavirus.

These viruses cause several illnesses of the respiratory tract, ranging from the common cold to severe diseases like SARS.

Scientists say that this new virus poses a threat because an infected person can spread it even if they do not portray symptoms.

Further, one infected person can pass the virus to three other people. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are currently over 1,400 confirmed cases worldwide.

While most have occurred in mainland China, 38 cases have been confirmed in 13 places abroad in France, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia, and the United States.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE

Efforts to contain the virus received a financial boost of Sh1 billion ($10million US dollars) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The emergency fund has been set aside to offer technical support frontline responders both in China and Africa

“The foundation is committing $5 million to the 2019-nCoV response in China and is already working with a range of Chinese public and private sector partners to accelerate national and international cooperation in areas of critical need, including efforts to identify and confirm cases, safely isolate and care for patients and accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines,” said the Gates Foundation.