Covid: Kenya mulls India travel curbs

Covid-19 India

In this picture taken on April 23, 2021, relatives wait next to Covid-19 coronavirus patients laying on stretchers in a hospital complex for admission in New Delhi. PHOTO | AFP

Kenya will decide today on whether to join a host of countries in imposing new Covid-19 travel restrictions to and from India as a deadly second wave of infections sweeps the Asian country.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said on Sunday that a crisis meeting of the National Emergency Response Committee (NERC) has been summoned to discuss and issue an update on India.

A number of countries, including the US, Britain, New Zealand, France, Singapore and Canada have either banned travel to and from India or asked their nationals coming from the Asian country to isolate in government-approved hotels.

India has seen soaring infection rates, a rapidly rising death toll and the discovery of a new virus variant.

On Sunday, the country recorded 349,691 new cases of Covid-19 infections in 24 hours as hospitals turned patients away due to the shortage of oxygen, intensive care beds and ventilators.

India is one of Kenya’s main trading partners and in 2019 accounted for the 102,600 arrivals through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and was the second-largest source of imports at Sh178.8 billion.

“We will convene a NERC meeting tomorrow for a decision on India,” Mr Kagwe told the Business Daily on Sunday. “There will be some action to protect our people, but all our decisions will be based on science.”

The NERC, which is chaired by Mr Kagwe, was established in February last year to guide government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its members include Cabinet Secretaries and principal secretaries in the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Treasury, Transport and ICT.

It also includes chief of staff from office of the President, heads of Kenya Ports Authority and Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.

On Friday, daily deaths from Covid-19 rose by a record 2,263 in 24 hours.

Kenya has captured 156,000 Covid-19 cases since March last year and 2,695 deaths.

Kenya on March 26 announced new lockdown measures to curb the Covid-19 wave including restricted travel in Nairobi and four surrounding counties

The rising number of cases in India has resulted in a deepening healthcare crisis that has gripped several states, and the country’s top court has asked the central government for a national plan by Friday on bolstering supply, oxygen, medicine, treatment and vaccines.

One worrying variant first detected in India, called the “double mutant”, has already been found in several other countries, including America and Britain.

Allowing the virus to circulate unchecked increases the risk that dangerous new strains will emerge.

Even as scientists labour to understand how big a threat it poses, more variants are appearing.

Health experts say India became complacent in the winter, when new cases were running at about 10,000 a day and seemed to be under control, and lifted restrictions to allow big gatherings.

Delhi’s government declared in February it had beaten back the coronavirus.

Narendra Modi’s government has faced criticism that it let its guard down, allowed big religious and political gatherings when India’s cases plummeted to below 10,000 a day and did not plan on building up the healthcare systems.

A large number of patients from Kenya travel to India every year for specialised medical treatment, especially cancer care, helping to drive medical tourism in the densely populated country that boasts affordable and easily accessible healthcare.

Some Kenyans took to Twitter to express their frustrations after passenger flights in India were cancelled indefinitely in efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

Wangombe Junior in a Tweet said he was stuck in New Delhi after flights were cancelled until further notice.

Kenya’s High Commission in India on Friday advised citizens to form WhatsApp groups to facilitate ease of communication should need arise.

In statement signed by Kenya’s High Commissioner in India Willy Bett, Kenyans in India have been asked to furnish the embassy with personal information to update its register.

“Kenyans currently in India are requested to send their names as they appear in the passport, their passport number, telephone and email addresses, their location and purpose of visit,” reads a part of the statement.