Foreign embassies evacuate their nationals from Nairobi in coronavirus fears

Some foreign embassies in Nairobi have evacuated their citizens to prevent them from being stuck as the government ban on international flights took effect. 

Since the announcement by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe on foreign travel on Sunday, a number of embassies had been working with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) and other government agencies and airlines to facilitate travel of their citizens back home.

Some of them feared with the alleged indiscipline among some Kenyans failing to observe strict measures outlined by the government to prevent the spread of the virus, the situation could easily get out of control and their nationals might be caught up in the mix.

Officials said the embassies also feared that local hospitals would not handle huge numbers of infected people in case of a major outbreak.

Some officials went for commercial flights while others chartered. Officials at the airports in Nairobi and Mombasa said there has been a marked departure of foreigners in the last few days.

Those that pushed their citizens to leave ahead of the deadline included United Kingdom, Germany, US, Norway, Netherlands and Switzerland.

KCAA had alerted airlines of plans to suspend international flights to Kenya over coronavirus spread.

KCAA boss Gilbert Kibe said this followed a directive issued by the National Emergency Response Committee (NERC) on March 22.

“A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) has already been issued suspending all international flights into Kenya, effective tomorrow midnight (March 25th, 2359hrs). Only cargo flights will be allowed into the country, with the crew expected to self-isolate within designated airport hotels,” he said.

Kenya Airways came in handy and organized direct flights to the US, UK and Europe after they were approved by the government on request by the embassies.

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Nairobi called on its nationals who wanted to leave Nairobi to take advantage of the last direct flight by Kenya Airways that was scheduled to leave JKIA for John F Kennedy International Airport in New York at 9pm.

“Kenyan Airways has indicated it will offer a flight for US citizens and US Lawful Permanent Residents departing JKIA on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at 2100 hours, provided it can sell all the seats on this flight,” the embassy told its nationals.

Some nationals complained the one-way ticket was too expensive. The cost of an economy class ticket on this flight was placed at about Sh335,000 per person one way, while a business class ticket was going for Sh400,000.

Germany, Danish and Norwegian embassies had also been organizing for the evacuation of their citizens.

Kenya Airways announced Sunday it will suspended all international passenger flights starting Wednesday over coronavirus.

KQ said cargo flights will however remain operational to offer emergency services and supplies.

“To comply with this directive, we have therefore temporarily suspended all international services effective midnight 25th March 2020, until further notice,” said KQ Managing Director and CEO Allan Kilavuka.

He noted that domestic flights to Mombasa and Kisumu will remain operational.