As airlines resume flights through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), there may be a larger storm gathering. Without strict rules for passengers coming into the country — including testing, tracing, lockdown management and quarantine — it will be tough for the government to keep infections down.
British Airways, KLM, Qatar Airways, and Air France have announced the resumption of passenger services, with some operating four flights weekly. With some of these passengers coming from countries experiencing a second spike in the number of new Covid-19 cases, it will be difficult for the Health ministry to prevent their actions from affecting the rest of the nation.
Having a Covid-19-free certificate before being allowed into the country is not enough because it is only useful on the day the test is taken. A traveller can get the virus after issuance of the certificate and remain asymptomatic en route. There have been reported cases of returnees from other countries testing positive for the virus a few days after getting clearance at the airport.
The government should therefore impose stricter protocols on people arriving from countries such as Spain, Vietnam, China, Japan, Tanzania, and other places that have seen new infections more than double or whose populations have not been adhering to the Covid-19 safety regulations.
The UK, for instance, is enforcing a 14-day self-isolation for travellers returning from Spain, with those disobeying the law risking a hefty fine. China introduced tough quarantine measures following an increase in imported cases from Russia. Beijing-bound international flights were diverted to other cities for screening and quarantine. Hong Kong came up with electronic bracelets for those arriving from overseas, tracking their movements and ensuring quarantines are adhered to.
Kenya should also consider introducing on-the-spot tests at the airport for travellers from coronavirus high-risk countries instead of the unreliable temperature checks. France is planning to start on-the-spot Covid-19 tests for people coming from 16 countries. However, if the government is to take this route, it must follow International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines that stipulate that testing must deliver results fast, operate to very high rates of accuracy, and must be cost-effective.
Hotels have raised concerns that tourists will shy away from the strict protocols, but they are important. If we aren't careful, Nairobi will be a primary gateway for more infections for the rest of the country.