Kenya suspends India flights over Covid-19 crisis

Thursday, April 29th, 2021 00:00 |
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe when he visited Mwatate Sub-County Hospital in Taita Taveta yesterday. Photo/PD/NICHOLAS NTHENGE

The government yesterday suspended passenger flights to and from India following a surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths in the populous Asian country.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said the suspension will take effect from midnight on Saturday.

Speaking in Voi, Taita Taveta county, the CS announced that the ban on flights between the two countries will remain in force for the next 14 days, pending a review by the government.

“This will allow those travelling tomorrow from India and those patients who are coming from treatment to arrive in the country,” said Kagwe.

Kenya now joins a number of countries including the UK, France, Canada, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Oman and Singapore that have banned travel to and from India.

The CS announced that all passengers arriving from India before Saturday midnight will be subjected to a rapid antigen testing upon arrival and at the port of entry.

“They will be required to strictly observe a 14-day quarantine that will be closely monitored by our health officials. Those who test positive will be put into mandatory quarantine in specified areas at their own cost,” he said.

He, however, said cargo flights from India will remain in operation subject to the laid down transport protocols.

Kagwe asked Kenyans planning to seek treatment in India to consider hospitals in other countries given the crisis in the second most populous country in the world.

His announcement came on the day that 23 people died of the disease in Kenya and 834 people tested positive from 8,498 tests.

The positivity rate went down to 9.8 per cent from 12.7 per cent on Tuesday with the total confirmed positive cases reaching 158,326 from 1,659,506 tests so far.

Nairobi remains the disease’s hotspot recording 246 positive cases followed by Kericho with 98. 

“From the cases, 805 are Kenyans while 29 are foreigners,” Kagwe added.

The India travel ban will adversely affect thousands of Kenyans who travel to India to seek specialised medical attention.

And perhaps conscious of this, Kagwe said the Kenya government was improving health facilities and had enhanced cancer treatment in hospitals across the country.

“There will be inconveniences due to the situation there. India’s capacity is totally overwhelmed. It is baffling for a Kenyan to get into a flight to head to India for treatment,” he said.

The CS said President Uhuru Kenyatta had also directed the Ministry of Health to work with Indian authorities to explore ways of offering assistance to the Asian country.

Vaccine deficit

“The National Response Committee held a crisis meeting two days ago to deliberate on a raft of issues following which a number of resolutions were made. The committee noted the dire events in India and it empathises with the situation,” he said.

Kagwe said due to the situation in India, the government was exploring other options to ensure that more Kenyans are inoculated against the virus.

Kenyan imported more than one million AstraZeneca vaccine doses from the global Covax initiative from India.

The CS said the government will import Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines in the next two months to cover the deficit created by India’s decision to halt exports.

The second wave of Covid-19 infection has seen India record at least 300,000 cases and 2,000 deaths on a daily basis in the past few days.

Yesterday, the country recorded 360,960 new cases and 3,293 fatalities pushing the country’s death toll to 201,187.  In Kenya, the cumulative fatalities rose to 2,688 since the disease claimed the first person in the country last year.

When a ban on international flights was lifted in August last year, Kenya Airways resumed operations to India under a special arrangement, referred to as “air bubble” in aviation parlance.

Before the Coronavirus struck the country, KQ could carry an unlimited number of passengers to India. 

However, with the resumption of the cross-border flights last year and countries being cautious over new strains of Covid-19, India limited the number of passengers to only 400 a week.

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