Omicron: There will be no lockdowns over Covid variant - PS Mochache


Health PS Susan Mochache spoke after receiving 200,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China at JKIA on September 18, 2021. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache has ruled out the resumption of lockdown in the wake of the Omicron  Covid-19 variant.

This, as the government enhances stringent measures, including intensified checks at the country’s entry points, scaling up vaccination drives and observance of prevention measures.

Speaking after receiving 200,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China at JKIA today, Ms Mochahche said the government was adopting precautionary measures to ensure the new variant of Covid-19 did not interrupt the economy, especially tourism that picks in December.

The new Omicron variant (B.1.1.529), which was first reported in South Africa on 24 November 2021, has created concern in the country, and globally after the World Health Organisation warned of “increased risk of re-infection with this variant as compared to others.”  

“Because of the variant, many countries have taken restrictions, but at the end of the day, we must continue to ensure we operate in an environment that allows trade to continue without economic depression because of Covid-19, Families must continue to interact and people must continue to move,” said Mochache.

Cases of Omicron- which has at least 32 documented mutations- have also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.

PS Mochache said although Kenya was dealing with the Delta and now the Omicron virus “that mutates, vaccines are useful as they’re resistant. If we all adhere to protocols, ensure vaccines are taken, there is no need for anyone to panic because that is the only way we can secure the country.”

Even with the emerging of the variant, the majority of Kenyans have thrown caution to the wind with the relaxed wearing of face masks even during political rallies, risking infections and the spread of the virus.

As of yesterday, the country had administered a total of 6, 939, 559 vaccines, of which, 4, 282, 386 people were partially vaccinated with 2, 657, 173 fully vaccinated.

Uptake of the second jab among those who have received the first dose stood at 57.3 per cent.

Mochache reassured that Kenya was putting stringent measures “in terms of inflow of people to the country, whether they are Kenyan citizens travelling or foreigners coming in.”

Her sentiments come at a time the ministry has directed all national and county health facilities to prepare to handle a potential increase in the number of new cases.

Acting Director-General of Health Dr Patrick Amoth has said that special emphasis should be placed on the availability of critical care facilities, piped oxygen and additional human resource.

Further, the official directed rigorous screening at all points of entry to the country of all arriving passengers from affected countries.

“Given the nature of transmission of Covid-19, it is inevitable that the variant may eventually get into the country. The country should prepare for an upsurge in the number of cases which are likely to be severe amongst unvaccinated persons,” said Dr Amoth.

Amoth noted that all points of entry must conduct rigorous screening of all arriving passengers from affected countries, with physical proof of vaccination prior to entry into the country for all inbound travellers.

All travellers into the country have also been directed to be in possession of negative Covid-19 PCR taken 96 hours before arrival into the country.

“The established relevant testing and genomic sequencing centres are directed to continue active genomics surveillance to inform on the circulating variants and appropriate mitigation measures,” added Dr Amoth.

Over the weekend UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed stricter testing at entry points, including banning flights from South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

India, which recently witnessed a surge of cases has also initiated Rapid Diagnostic Testing (RDT) for all passengers arriving from South Africa, Lesotho Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Namibia.

Dr Amoth added that Kenya enjoys cordial relations with South Africa and passenger air traffic between Kenya and South Africa is significant and so the potential of introduction is a real threat.

However, a spill of the variant he said can be mitigated by effective entry screening at all points of entry used by passengers from the affected countries.

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