After Dubai ban, US limits Kenya travel on Covid


A Kenya Airways ground crew checks-in passengers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, on August 1, 2020. PHOTO | AFP

The United States has downgraded Kenya to level three travel advisory, a category that requires American citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to the country or reconsider planned trips in the wake of a surge in Covid-19 infections.

In its first travel advisory this year, the US made the review against Kenya last week, dealing a fresh blow to the recovering tourism sector.

Kenya had been categorised at level one in October, which is a much safer classification that only requires citizens to follow standard procedures such as putting on face masks.

The Level Three category normally applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level three Travel Health Notice for Kenya due to Covid-19, indicating a high level of Covid-19 in the country,” states the latest advisory from the US embassy in Nairobi.

The downgrade comes at a time United Arabs Emirates has banned flights from Kenya to Dubai indefinitely following high cases of Covid-19 in the country amid claims of fake certificates issued by authorities in Nairobi.

The aviation regulator said last week that Dubai banned all inbound and transit passenger flights from Kenya because travellers from Nairobi were testing positive for Covid-19 after arrival in the Middle East nation, despite carrying negative test results.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director-general Gilbert Kibe said last week that the scheme involved a racket of corrupt officials from Ministry of Health who colluded with travellers to issue fake Covid-19 PCR results to aid travel to Dubai.

The tourism and the hospitality industry was one of the fastest growing sectors that pushed Kenya’s economic growth in the third quarter to 9.9 percent following the lifting of the containment measures.

Kenya is counting on the recovery of the tourism sector to stop the job hemorrhage in the sector and reverse the slowdown that had forced some big hotels to shut down for good.

Kenya’s coronavirus infections rate crossed the World Health Organisation (WHO) high-risk limit of five percent for the first time in December since the government lifted the nationwide curfew on October 20 with the rate of infection growing daily until a few days ago when the positivity rate started coming down again.

Data from the Ministry of Health shows that the positivity rate — the proportion of tests coming back positive — rose to more than 30 percent in December from a low of 0.5 percent in September, amid the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The WHO labels a country to be a high risk if the positivity rate rises above five percent and advises countries to consider imposing restrictions measures such as lockdowns if it remains above the limit for at least 14 days.

The advisory comes just weeks after it emerged that holders of Kenyan passports are barred from visiting 40 countries across the globe due to high level of Covid-19.

The Henley Passport Index, which monitors the world’s most travel-friendly passports since 2006, made the revelations in its final report of 2021, showing how countries are still keen to protect their citizens from new variants of coronavirus.

The restrictions look set to hurt the vital tourism sector given that the US and UK account for more than 20 percent of travel to Kenya.

In the half-year to June, visitors to Kenya from the US and UK stood at 65,442, representing 21.4 percent of arrivals.

The US travel restrictions come amid fears that the highly contagious Covid-19 Omicron variant may spark the fourth wave of infections in Kenya.

However, in the last couple of days, the positivity rate has been declining and it stood at 19 percent on Sunday.

Traditionally, the Kenyan high tourist season starts in mid-July and runs until March the following year and is characterised by international arrivals mainly from the US, UK, Germany, Italy and France.

The US classification of Kenya as Covid-19 high-risk could force many US travellers to either cancel or postpone their trips indefinitely.

In June, the US CDC issued a Level 2 Travel Health Notice for Kenya due to Covid-19, indicating a moderate level of coronavirus in the country, while in August, it was downgraded to level three following a surge in numbers.