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Court orders hunt for 239 Chinese travellers and suspends flights

By Paul Ogemba | February 29th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Passengers disembark from Chinese Southern Airline plane at JKIA in 2015. [File, Standard]

The High Court has ordered the government to immediately hunt and confine the 239 Chinese who jetted into the country on Wednesday, causing fears of spreading the deadly coronavirus.

Justice James Makau directed Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, Health CS Sicily Kariuki, Transport CS James Macharia and Foreign Affairs CS Raychelle Omamo to trace, re-examine, confine and quarantine them in a Kenya Defence Force (KDF) facility to save Kenyans from an imminent health risk.

His decision came as a relief to Kenyans who feared contracting the deadly coronavirus after the government allowed Chinese Southern Airline from Guangzhou with the 239 passengers and cleared them to go home with mere instructions to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Kenyans will continue to be exposed to the deadly coronavirus unless the government is stopped from allowing more flights from China. They cannot be allowed to put Kenyans lives at grave danger which may result into many deaths since the virus has no known vaccine,” ruled Makau.

Detained

Covid 19 Time Series

 

He said once traced, the 239 passengers should be detained at the KDF facility or a specially guarded medical facility until duly certified that they are free from the virus.

Justice Makau also suspended all flights from China, ruling that no Chinese or any person coming from China should be let into the country either by air, through the sea or by land, and that the Ministry of Health should immediately prepare a report of the government’s preparedness to handle the virus.

He also stopped the government from letting into the country people from other countries designated by World Health Organisation (WHO) as hotpots for coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“An order is hereby issued compelling Cabinet Secretary for Health Sicily Kariuki to prepare and present to the court for scrutiny a contingency plan on prevention, surveillance, control and response system to corona virus (COVID-19) outbreak in Kenya,” said Makau.

The China Southern Airlines reacted to the court’s order by suspending its scheduled flights to Nairobi until further notice.

Justice Makau issued the orders following two separate petitions filed by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and two medial doctors, Dr Joseph Mithika and Dr Thiankunu Cyprian, claiming the government was gambling with the lives of 48 million Kenyans by allowing Chinese to enter the country.

Lawyer Dudley Ochiel for LSK argued that it was insensitive for the government to allow Chinese travellers into the country when the world is in a crisis and many countries have locked their borders to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

According to Ochiel, it was ironical that the government, through Health CS Sicily Kariuki, had advised the public against travelling to China and countries where there is an outbreak of the disease while allowing people from those countries to come to Kenya.

“The Ministry of Health has failed to prepare and enforce any contingency plan to contain spread of the virus. Their actions are a threat to right to good health and life. We cannot gamble with the lives of millions of Kenyans who don’t have capacity to protect themselves from the disease,” said Ochiel.

He submitted that the government went against the advice of WHO that no flights should be allowed from China to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Contingency plan

Mr Ochiel said the Ministry of Health had failed to prepare and enforce a functional public health emergency contingency plan to control, prevent and manage the outbreak of the corona virus disease but was happy to invite the disease by allowing Chinese nationals back into the country.

Lawyer Henry Kurauka, representing the two doctors, argued that the Chinese Embassy in Nairobi had confirmed that there will be more flights coming into Kenya from Guangzhou, causing anxiety and fear of spreading the disease.

He told the judge that it was not practically possible for the government to tell Kenyans that all the 239 passengers were free from the virus when the country has no sufficient machinery to test the disease.

“The Health ministry publicly admitted that they lacked capacity to detect the disease when just one passenger from China showed signs and they had to send the samples to South Africa for proper analysis. How then did they test and clear 239 passengers in a few minutes?” posed Kurauka.

Dr Mithika and Dr Thiankunu, in their affidavits, stated that it was wrong for the government to unilaterally decide to allow flights from China without consulting medical professionals who are in a better position to advice whether to admit the passengers.

They added that the government has not put in place tracking mechanism to monitor the passengers after they were cleared from the airport, causing the public psychological, mental and emotional anguish.

Justice Makau directed that the orders will be in force for 10 days and ordered the government to respond to the petitions by Tuesday next week.


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