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Kenya opts not to ban UK flights over rising number of Covid-19 infections

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Kenya has opted not to join dozens of countries that have either banned inbound flights or cut all passenger air travel due to a highly infectious new coronavirus strain.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said Tuesday that Kenya has instead issued stricter measures for allowing in travelers from the UK over banning flights.

More than 53 countries across five continents had by December 22 shut their doors to UK travelers over the discovery of the mutant coronavirus strain.

“We have very strict travel measures with the UK which the US and the Europeans did not have. We are carefully observing every passenger travelling from there,” said Mr Kagwe.

Countries, mainly from Europe suspended travel from Britain after the UK said it had discovered mutated variant of the novel coronavirus, which could be up to 70 percent more transmissible.

Mr Kagwe reckons that Kenya needed additional recommendations from institutions like the World Health Organisation (WHO) before taking steps such as flight bans.

Britain is one of Kenya’s main trading partners and last year accounted for the fourth largest arrivals through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with 181,400 visitors.

Boris Johnson, the premier, put London and parts of the South East and East of England on a two-week Christmas lockdown, with nearly 18 million people in a new Tier 4.

Dozens of nations outside Europe have also blocked flights from Britain. They include Canada, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

Kenya Health CS Mutahi Kagwe.

But some countries such as France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, German, Ireland and China have in recent days relaxed these travel restrictions from the UK.

The discovery of the new strain, just months before vaccines are expected to be widely available, sowed a fresh wave of panic in a pandemic that has killed about 1.7 million people worldwide and more than 67,000 in Britain.

Scientists say there’s no evidence that vaccines being deployed in the UK – made by Pfizer and BioNTech – or other Covid-19 shots in development will not protect against this variant, known as the B.1.1.7.

National carrier Kenya Airways would have frozen its flights to and from Heathrow International Airport in London had Kenya restricted UK travel.

This would have been a big blow to the carrier that is currently relying on the few routes to grow revenue.

Kenya Airways resumed international flights in August heading to about 30 destinations for the first time since the routes were suspended in March due to the coronavirus, down from 56 cities where it flew before the outbreak of the pandemic.

The airline said the Covid-19 has affected demand for flying worldwide hence the need to scale down the number of flights operated in given routes. The carrier said it is operating at 37 percent on international routes.

First-half pre-tax losses to June hit Sh14.36 billion as Covid-19 suspended travel and slashed revenues. This compares poorly to a Sh8.56 billion-shilling loss in the similar period last year.

Closer home, South Africa has also reported a variant case of the Covid-19, highlighting the danger that the new strain poses to the continent.

South Africa bans alcohol sales, tightens curfew

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