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Kenya intensifies surveillance over new Covid 'super variant' in South Africa

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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

Travellers arriving from southern African countries will have to undergo Covid-19 tests as Kenya steps up surveillance at points of entry following reports of a new lethal coronavirus variant in South Africa.

The head of the National Covid-19 Vaccines Taskforce at the Health ministry Willis Akhwale said Friday that mandatory quarantine is being considered for travellers from or transiting through the region and Hong Kong.

The new variant, known as B.1.1.529, has 32 mutations which makes it highly transmissible and with potential for vaccine escape.

Health experts say that it is "the worst one we've seen so far", and there is concern it has the potential to evade immunity.

No cases of the new variant have been confirmed in the country.

Countries in Europe such as the United Kingdom and The Netherlands have banned travellers from six southern African countries – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.

Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana so far.

“Whilst passenger traffic may not be as significant from Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe, enhanced surveillance protocols including quarantine and repeat testing should be applied to all passengers from all these countries reporting the new variant including Hong Kong, and passengers transiting through the same,” Health acting Director-General Dr Patrick Amoth said Friday.

He warned 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.

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.