Coronavirus: Kenya gives update amid worry over China flight

Thursday February 27 2020

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman told a press briefing that passengers of a plane originating from China were given self-quarantine instructions. PHOTO | NMG 

JILL NAMATSI
By JILL NAMATSI
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Kenya's Health ministry on Thursday gave an update on preparedness for a coronavirus outbreak, saying it had taken several steps to keep the public safe.

The update followed complaints by the public after a plane from China, the country where the virus originated, landed in Kenya on Wednesday.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman said the plane has a total of 239 passengers, 13 of whom were Kenyans, 198 Chinese and the rest on transit.

He told a press briefing of local and international journalists that they were given self-quarantine instructions.

DISCRIMINATION

The arrival of the China Southern Airlines aircraft raised fears among the public, given the quick spread of the Covid-19 virus that has killed at least 2,800 people across the world so far.

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Many took to Twitter and other social media platforms to complain about a country with misplaced priorities, noting key weaknesses in the health system.

Using hashtag #CoronavirusKenya, they said it would be best to keep people from China out and focus on protecting the country as it would likely be unable to contain an outbreak.

Asked about taking such a measure, however, CAS Aman said it would be "discriminatory".

"Even if you stop flights, there are others that connect elsewhere, so it is not a solution at this point," he said.

But he added, "A time may come when that is necessary but we should be careful not to label people a certain way as we protect our people. That is not lost on us. We want to protect our people at all costs."

SELF-QUARANTINE

The ministry responded to questions on the matters of isolation versus self-quarantine in efforts to prevent infections or spread of the disease.

CAS Aman noted that these measures are taken based on cases and guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO).

He explained that isolation applies to confirmed cases that need close monitoring and that self-quarantine does not mean the person is infected but that measures need to be taken over the 14 days to ensure no infection.

In a family setting, he said, self-quarantine means a person cannot freely mix with members because of the way the virus is transmitted.

If the person makes contact with his family, they will all be under quarantine.

The CAS further said that many of the Chinese who live in Kenya live alone, so the question of family does not always arise.

According to the WHO, "coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people."

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the organisation says.

OTHER MEASURES

The ministry reiterated that it continues to maintain a heightened surveillance system at all points of entry, health facilities and communities across the country.

It also noted an improved diagnostics capacity at the laboratory of the National Influenza Centre and the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

It said it was also training health workers on prevention of the virus, early detection and management of suspected or confirmed cases.

Through its surveillance system, the ministry has been able to pick 17 alerts, with all testing negative for the disease.

Kenya has enough facilities to handle suspected cases at the moment, including an 11-bed area at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, CAS Aman said.