Kenya on high alert after Covid 'super variant' reported in South Africa

Friday November 26 2021
covid test

Experts have reported that the new Covid strain could be more lethal than previous variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 diseases. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By Elizabeth Merab

Kenya has warned health facilities to prepare for an upsurge in the number of Covid-19 cases that are likely to be more sever among unvaccinated persons. 

This follows reports that a new coronavirus variant, known as B.1.1.529 and first detected in southern Africa, could be more lethal than previous variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 diseases.

On Friday, acting director-general of Health, Dr Patrick Amoth, said that given the nature of transmission of Covid-19 it is inevitable that the variant may eventually get into the country.

“Special emphasis should be placed on the availability of critical care facilities, piped oxygen, and additional human resource surge capacity,” he said, while calling on all eligible Kenyans to be fully vaccinated.

The proportion of adults fully vaccinated against the virus is still relatively low at 9.4 per cent prompting the government this week to issue a directive that residents must show proof of Covid-19 vaccination by December 21 to access government services.

Dr Amoth further directed that all points of entry must conduct rigorous screening of all arriving passengers from the affected countries, with physical proof of vaccination prior to entry into the country for all inbound travellers.


The country has moved to enhance surveillance on travellers coming into the country from six southern African countries.

Passengers coming into the country from Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong will be required to go into quarantine, and get tested repeatedly. Additionally, travellers from South Africa, where the variant known as B.1.1.529 was first detected, will also be subjected to exit and entry screening at all points of entry to ensure that transmission is controlled, Dr Amoth added in a statement sent to newsrooms. 

“...passenger air traffic between Kenya and South Africa is significant and so the potential of introduction is a real threat. This can, however, be mitigated by measures taken in South Africa to control transmission rates, exit screening in all affected countries, and effective entry screening in Kenya at all points of entry used by passengers from the affected countries,” he said.

The move came shortly after the UK banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini and Zimbabwe following threats of the new variant.

India has also initiated rapid diagnostic testing (RDT) for all passengers arriving from the six countries.

It is expected that more countries will place the six and any other country reporting the B.1.1.529 variant on specific restrictions, including quarantine measures and flight bans, Dr Amoth added.

As some world leaders have hastily responded by issuing new precautions and travel restrictions, Africa centres for disease control and prevention (Africa CDC) “strongly” discouraged the imposition of travel bans for people originating from countries that have reported the variant.

“In fact, over the duration of this pandemic, we have observed that imposing bans on travellers from countries where a new variant is reported has not yielded a meaningful outcome. Rather implementing public health and social measures (PHSM), including mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand washing should be prioritised.”