Kenya bans public events after confirming first coronavirus case

Kenya is the 11th country in sub-Saharan Africa to confirm a case of COVID-19.
Kenya is the 11th country in sub-Saharan Africa to confirm a case of COVID-19.

Kenya has banned all major public events after confirming East Africa's first case of the new coronavirus, a woman who had returned to the capital Nairobi from the United States, the health minister said on Friday.

Kenya, the richest economy in the region and a hub for global firms and the United Nations, is the 11th country in sub-Saharan Africa to confirm a case of COVID-19, bringing the total number of reported cases to 39.

Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe told a news conference the government had suspended all public gatherings, sporting events, open-air religious meetings and "all events that are of a huge public nature".

Schools will remain open but all inter-school events will be suspended, he said.

Soon after the announcement, shoppers filled a supermarket, buying up cartloads of staples like maize flour and water as well as hand sanitizers and soap.

Kagwe said the patient had been diagnosed at the national influenza centre laboratory on Thursday night after travelling home via London on March 5.

The 27-year-old Kenyan is stable and her temperature has gone to down to normal, the minister said.

"She cannot be released...until she gets negative," he said.

She is being treated at the government's biggest health facility, the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

The government has traced most of the people she has been in contact with, including fellow passengers on the flight home, and a government response team will monitor their temperatures for the next two weeks.

The reported cases in Sub-Saharan Africa have mainly been in foreigners or nationals who had travelled abroad, but concerns are growing about the continent's ability to handle a potential rapid spread of a virus that has infected 127,000 and killed 4,700 worldwide.

Kagwe sought to reassure the public but said that people must change their habits.

"Going forward there will be some inconveniences that citizens are going to experience," he said.

Changes include a state requirement for all public transport vehicles to install hand sanitizers for their passengers and regular cleaning of the vehicles, Kagwe said, adding that foreign travel will also be restricted.

"In any event (there will be) no travel at all to the areas, the disease epicentre countries," he said, without specifying if this will apply to everybody or just government workers.

Kenya, which is dependent on imports from China and other Asian countries, has started to feel the impact of the coronavirus pandemic with disruptions to the supply chain.

Kagwe warned traders: "This is not the time to make abnormal profits by charging abnormal prices."

Kenya Airways suspended flights to China last month and on Thursday it added Rome and Geneva to the list of suspended destinations.

Tourism, an important source of hard currency and jobs for Kenya, has also started to feel the impact of the turmoil caused by the outbreak, said Tourism Minister Najib Balala.

"Definitely we are going to be hit badly," Balala told the same news conference, citing the impact of the virus on source markets like Europe and the United States.