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State mulls halting China flights

By Rawlings Otini | February 5th 2020
A stewardess takes the temperature of passenger on an Air China flight from Melbourne to Beijing on Tuesday. Major airlines have suspended flights to the country. [Courtesy]

The government and the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) are in talks that could see the suspension of all flights between Kenya and China.

The consultations between relevant government ministries and the civil aviation industry regulator are meant to evaluate the country’s level of risk and exposure to the coronavirus epidemic.

“We have already issued safety guidelines to the airlines plying the China route, but we are consulting for further necessary action, which may include suspension,” KCAA Director General Gilbert Kibe told The Standard yesterday. Analysts said Kenya does not have the capacity to deal with such an epidemic and more preventive measures are necessary.

“We lack the capacity to screen passengers and detect if someone is a carrier because it takes up to 14 days for symptoms to show, hence the Ministry of Health might order the suspension of all flights between Kenya and China,” said Githae Mwaniki, a senior consultant at Aviation Information Consultancy, who is privy to the ongoing consultations.

The new development came as the death toll from the outbreak rose to at least 425 yesterday and China admitted “shortcomings and difficulties” in its response to the flu-like infection.

Carriers such as China Southern Airlines still operate fly three to four times a week between Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and Guangzhou.

Ethiopian Airlines, which has insisted that it will continue to fly to China, links the Asian nation to 45 African destinations, including Kenya.

The virus keeps mutating, making it difficult for health authorities to deal with it.

Three Kenyans have been quarantined on arrival from China on fears that they might be infected.

Kenya Airways recently suspended its flights to China after consultations with the government through the Ministry of Health and Foreign Affairs.

Analysts say that apart from health concerns, the epidemic is likely to have a significant impact on the economy ranging from tourism to merchandise trade.

“There will be a ripple effect in many areas of the economy from airlines to shipping since trade between Kenya and China has been growing rapidly,” said Gerishon Ikiara, an international trade lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

Other major airlines such as KLM, British Airways, Egypt Air, RwandAir, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines that also fly to Nairobi have already suspended flights to China over the safety of their passengers and crew.

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