Nairobi is now ranked sixth among African cities whose populations are at high risk of being infected with Covid-19.
This is emerging even as government bureaucrats continue to allow in travellers from 18 high-risk cities in mainland China.
This is according to a spatial analysis by experts in population mapping at the University of Southampton.
The University’s WorldPop team has found that Bangkok in Thailand is currently the city at the highest risk of infection, based on the number of air travellers predicted to arrive there from the worst affected cities in China.
With Nairobi still receiving visitors from the Asian nation, Kenya is now regarded as a high-risk country by researchers who have been tracking the spread of the virus based on the number of flights and connections with infected territories.
The study indicates Guangzhou has also been receiving travellers from Wuhan, the epicentre of the disease, and is ranked 15th among highest-risk Chinese cities.
Guangzhou is located in Guangdong, a wealthy manufacturing province in South China, and the second most affected province in China. As at the start of this week, the province had 1,347 confirmed cases, the second highest figure in China after Hubei, which has recorded 65,000 cases.
On Wednesday, Kenya allowed in 239 passengers who had arrived aboard a China Southern Airlines flight from Guangzhou at a time when other countries are restricting entry of non-citizens from China.
In the US, President Donald Trump has declared a public health emergency that will temporarily bar foreign nationals who have travelled to China within the last 14 days – other than the immediate family members of citizens and permanent residents – from entering the country.
Americans returning from the affected provinces will be subjected to 14 days of mandatory quarantine. In contrast, here in Kenya, the Chinese passengers were asked to self-quarantine.
On Thursday, the BBC quoted Chinese health officials as saying about 14 per cent of patients in Guangdong province “who had the coronavirus but recovered and were discharged from hospital have tested positive for the virus again”.
“Health officials admit they’re still learning about the disease and how it operates. The same phenomenon has been reported in Japan, where a woman in her 40s who had recovered and tested negative for the virus tested positive more than three weeks later,” the BBC reported.
Kenya, however, continues to tempt fate.
The government has ruled out stopping airlines from China from landing in Nairobi, a decision that came just a day after the country’s biggest airport witnessed drama when officials refused to allow passengers who had arrived from China on a direct flight from disembarking. They were ordered to allow them in.
Angered by whatever transpired at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) on Wednesday morning, Kenyans took to social media to express their displeasure, especially on the pronouncement that the passengers had been advised to self-quarantine.
The government has, however, insisted that there is nothing to worry about as the country has the capacity to test and treat any cases detected in Kenya.
“We have in the past two months been up scaling up our contingency plans. So far, we have instituted surveillance measures for all arriving passengers,” said Health Cabinet Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman.
“We have deployed extra health personnel at the JKIA, put up an isolation facility at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and at all points of entry,” Mr Aman said while cautioning Kenyans against non-essential travel to China.
By yesterday, 73 airlines globally, including national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ), had stopped flights to China and South Korea. Several countries have also issued travel advisories to their citizens.
KQ has been hit hard by revenue loss since it stopped flying to China.
On Monday, the airline said it had lost Sh800 million in just one month. KQ operates the Nairobi-Guangzhou route thrice a week via Bangkok.
Acting chief executive Allan Kilavuka said China is a key cargo origin as well as a main feeder to the regional freighters, and the suspension of flights has dealt a big blow to the airline’s revenues.
By last evening, 82,358 people had been diagnosed with the disease in 50 countries.
In Africa, Algeria and Egypt are the only affected countries so far.
The United Nations has expressed concerns about the “enormous risk” that the disease still poses to African nations that are not well equipped to handle an outbreak.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the greatest concern was the virus reaching areas with “less capacity in their health service, especially some African countries”.
Since the elimination of rinderpest in 2001 after almost a century of fighting the disease that ravaged cattle, Kenya’s almost broken health system has never been tested by a major epidemic.
Cross-border epidemics such as Ebola, SARS, MERS and swine flu have never been recorded in Kenya.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Covid-19 has an incubation period of 14 days, after which its symptoms start to show.
However, in China’s Hubei, an infected 70-year-old man did not exhibit symptoms until 27 days later.
This means some of the passengers on Flight CZ 6043 that landed in Nairobi from Guangzhou this week may have the virus but are asymptomatic.
And, without government supervision to find out whether they are actually self-quarantining or not, they could be unwittingly spreading the virus to the people they come into contact with during their stay in Kenya.
On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo told the National Assembly Committee on Foreign Relations that there was no need to worry about the flights from China.
She insisted WHO guidelines were being adhered to in clearing the passengers.
When taken to task over the government’s reluctance to evacuate Kenyan students in China, Ms Omamo reiterated the government’s position that, at the moment, there are no plans to bring them home.
“The Kenyan embassy in Beijing is offering support to the students. We are aware of the possible psychological stress they may be under at the moment but, as of today, the government has made no decision to evacuate the students,” she said.
Ms Omamo further noted that the 45 countries that have evacuated students from China have reported cases of the coronavirus despite their health systems.
“No country in East Africa has evacuated. We believe the best way is to supply them with resources and all the support we can through the embassy in Beijing,” she said.
Most of the counties are ill-prepared to handle an outbreak.
Only 10 have made an effort to train their health workers and sensitise the public on how to handle the virus.
These counties include Mombasa, Nakuru, Nairobi, Kisumu, Kitui, Narok and Kajiado.