Kenya will make a decision in the next 48 hours on whether to join EU member States in imposing new travel restrictions to and from the United Kingdom due to a highly infectious new coronavirus strain.
Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said Kenya was monitoring events in the UK before taking action on a day the European Commission advised all its 27 member States to lift their embargo on trains, planes and lorries from Britain to avoid further disruption.
Countries across Europe and beyond have suspended travel from Britain since the weekend after the UK said it had discovered mutated variant of the novel coronavirus, which could be up to 70 percent more transmissible.
Scientists say there’s no evidence that vaccines currently 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.
The United Kingdom is in effective Covid-19 quarantine just nine days before it is due to part ways with the EU after a transition period – considered to be one of the biggest changes in post-World War Two British history.
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.
“UK has imposed travel restriction and in the next 48 hours we will be making further announcements,” Mr Kagwe said yesterday.
“Travel restrictions are on the table. We are observing global trends and discussions are looking at what is going on.”
Countries closed their doors to Britain after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that the new variant was up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original version.
Mr Johnson 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’s aviation regulator said it is awaiting directive from the Ministry of Health before issuing a restraining order on flights to and from some of the European countries that have reported a new strain of Covid-19.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director-general Gilbert Kibe told the Business Daily that discussions are on in government over the new Covid-19 strain and its impacts on travel in and out of the country.
“The Ministry of Health is seriously deliberating on the issue and we are waiting for a guidance from them then we shall act accordingly,” said Mr Kibe.
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. In Kenya, 94,768 have tested positive and it had killed 1,647 by yesterday.
National carrier Kenya Airways would have to freeze its flights to and from Heathrow International Airport in London should Kenya restrict UK travel.
This will be 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, this is down from 56 cities where it flew before the outbreak of the pandemic.
KQ said the Covid-19 has affected demand for flying worldwide hence need to scale down on the number of flights operated in given routes. The carrier said it is currently operating at 37 percent on its international route.
First-half pre-tax losses to June were Sh14.36 billion as Covid-19 suspended travel and slashed revenues. This compares to a Sh8.56 billion-shilling loss in the same 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.