Coronavirus: Kenya’s risk among Africa’s highest

Kenya has a risk of 0.07 per cent, the highest in East Africa and sixth highest across the continent

In Summary

• Kenya has already installed thermal tests for flu at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which receives at least four flights from China daily. 

• The ministry noted there are 85 Kenyans living in Wuhan who are registered with the embassy in Beijing.

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi
The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi
Image: FILE

Kenya has Africa's sixth-highest risk of receiving a case of the new coronavirus imported from China. 

The risk is based on the volume of air traffic between Kenya and China, which has reported more than 80 deaths and 2,700 cases of the deadly virus. 

Kenya has a risk of 0.07 per cent, the highest in East Africa and sixth across the continent.


Yesterday, a Kenyan student who arrived from China via Kenya Airways was quarantined at the Kenyatta National Hospital for tests after he exhibited flu symptoms.


South Africa has the highest risk of 0.21 per cent in Africa, according to the new modelling study produced by Northeastern University in the US. 


The results are being used for intervention by organisations around the world, including the Centre for Diseases Control and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Nigeria, Africa's biggest importer of Chinese goods, has the second-highest risk, followed by Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco and Kenya respectively.

The highest risk in the world is in Indonesia and Philipines at 3.3 per cent. Countries that have already reported infections were not ranked.

Kenya has already installed thermal tests for flu at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which receives at least four flights from China daily. 

"We have 60 trained and sensitised health officials to detect and handle related cases," Health CS Sicily Kariuki said.


"Our hospitals are well equipped and ready to handle this virus,” she added.



Most models show that the spread of an epidemic is an exponential curve where the patient zero gets the flu, spreads it to two people, who spread it to two additional people, and so on.

The curve only begins to level off when so many people are sick that it becomes difficult to find healthy people to cough on.

But the new modelling by Northeastern’s Laboratory for the Modelling of Biological and Socio-technical Systems uses more variables to determine the risk for Kenya and other African countries.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has urged Kenyans to avoid non-essential travel to the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan until the situation there is contained.

“Those on essential travels must comply with additional screening measures that have been put in place by the authorities,” the ministry said in an advisory on Monday.

The ministry noted there are 85 Kenyans living in Wuhan who are registered with the embassy in Beijing.

“All Kenyans in Wuhan and in China, in general, should endeavour to immediately contact the Kenya Embassy in Beijing for advice and consular assistance as appropriate. Those who may exhibit symptoms of the virus have been advised to report to the nearest hospital without delay,” the ministry said.

Scientists across the world are currently working together to understand the new coronavirus and how to develop a response, but much remains unknown.

The new strain, identified by Chinese authorities on January 7 and currently named 2019-nCoV, had not been previously identified in humans.

On Sunday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a Sh1 billion ($10 million) commitment in emergency funds and additional tech support to help responders in China and Africa contain the spread of the virus.

Half of the funds are going to China, while the other half “will assist the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in scaling up public health measures against 2019-nCoV among African Union member states,” the foundation said.

“These measures will include technical support to implement the screening and treatment of suspected cases, laboratory confirmation of 2019-nCoV diagnoses and the safe isolation and care of identified cases.”


The World Health Organisation so far has not declared the outbreak a global health emergency, though Director-General Tedros Adhanom has said the spread of the new virus is a crisis for China and a risk to countries beyond it.

The WHO declined to label the outbreak a global health emergency of international concern on the advice of a panel of experts who met last week.

According to the WHO, signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

However, the organisation has issued control measures to be taken to reduce the risks of coronavirus infection.

“While the cause of pneumonia seems to be a novel coronavirus, transmission potential and modes of transmission remain unclear,” the global UN agency said.

Some prevention measures include cleaning hands with soap or an alcohol-based hand rub after sneezing or coughing, when caring for the sick, before, during and after preparing food and before eating.

Others are washing hands after using the toilet, when hands are dirty and after handling animals alive or dead or animal waste.

“Cover your and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue of flexed elbow. Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms,” WHO says.

There is no vaccine for the new virus.

So far, more than 2,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus, the vast majority in China.


So far, all cases outside China seem to be in people who have travelled from Hubei province (whose capital is Wuhan City), where the outbreak began.

Chinese health authorities are still trying to determine the origin of the virus, which they say came from a seafood market in Wuhan City where wildlife was also traded illegally.

Confirmed cases have been reported in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, the US, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, France, South Korea, Vietnam, Canada and Nepal. 

According to the US's Centre for Disease Control and Protection, coronaviruses are common in many different species of animals, including camels and bats.

Rarely, these coronaviruses can evolve and infect humans and then spread between humans. 

However, the current coronavirus can move between people.

One study, based on data collected between January 10 and 21, estimates that each person with the virus can pass it to between three and five other people.

China on Sunday announced a nationwide ban on the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants and e-commerce platforms.

Wild and often poached animals packed together in Chinese markets are blamed as incubators for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.

Snakes, peacocks, crocodiles and other species can also be found for sale via Taobao, an e-commerce website run by Alibaba.

Edited by T Jalio