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Kenya to reopen its airspace despite increasing Covid-19 cases

Saturday July 04 2020
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A Kenya Airways plane. Kenya is set to reopen its airspace for domestic flights despite surge in Covid-19 cases. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By LUKE ANAMI

Kenya is set to reopen its airspace for domestic flights, allow religious gatherings and inter-county tourism and travel in a bid to salvage its battered economy, even as the number of Covid-19 infections continue to rise sharply.

President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to review the months-long Covid-19 lockdown measures that are supposed to lapse on July 6, ending more than three months of strict shutdowns of different sectors of the economy.

"We will soon start domestic flights and this is what we will use as our trial in readiness for international travel over the next couple of days," said President Kenyatta last week, pointing to lifting of a ban on travel into and out of Nairobi and Mombasa, the country’s biggest cities. It is however not clear whether the 9pm to 4am countrywide curfew will be lifted.

The reopening will be guided by protocols put in place in different sectors of the economy.

The tourism sector, which has been hard-hit by the government-imposed restriction on movement, has developed a set of re-opening protocols, which received a stamp of approval from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) on July 1.

“I am delighted to announce that Kenya has been listed among the 80 global destinations certified and authorised to use the “World Travel and Tourism Council Safe Travel Stamp” together with our Magical Kenya Logo. This stamp will allow travellers to recognise Kenya as a safe destination once we reopen and implement the health and safety protocols,” said Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala. The protocols seek to ensure service provision meets required guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

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They will also ensure a safe experience for visitors.

A 15-member interfaith council chaired by Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Nyeri Catholic Archdiocese, has been holding deliberations on the protocol for re-opening places of worship.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed last month appointed an 18-member committee to advise on the resumption of sporting activities in the country.

The national government has been pushing county administrations to build capacity of at least 300 ICU beds per county in readiness for the ease in travel restrictions, which is expected to trigger a surge in new cases countrywide.

A progress report last week showed county governments had set up 6,898 isolation beds against the national target of 30,500 units.

Covid-19 cases have been rising in the country at an alarming rate. The number of infected people stood at 7,188 on July 3, with 154 deaths. Daily positive cases hit an all-time high of 307 in June.

More than 10.9 million people have caught the virus globally, with deaths exceeding 521,000.

Kenya Airways Board chairman Michael Joseph in an interview with The EastAfrican said the national carrier is ready to resume flights as early as July 8, once the travel restrictions are lifted.

“We are ready to re-open. We have put in place protocols as required by both local and international standards including the boarding and checking-in situation,” said Mr Joseph.

Several airlines are considering keeping the middle seats empty to avoid passengers sitting directly next to each other.

Mr Joseph, however, argues that it is not commercially viable to operate half-empty flights. “Planes require a load factor of over 66.7 per cent to make any profit. It is not commercially viable to keep the middle seats empty and therefore the normal plane seating arrangement will be maintained,” he said, adding, “We will enforce other measures including wearing masks, sanitisation, controlled boarding, and limiting contact.”

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