Kenya warns of “vaccine apartheid” as it strikes back over UK travel ban

“Kenya continues to see with deep regret that vaccine producing countries around the world have begun to practice some form of vaccine nationalism, obsession and discrimination, coupled with an attitude that can only be described as ‘vaccine apartheid’.”, The Kenyan Foreign Office said in a lengthy press release issued in response to the UK’s travel ban.

“This vaccine apartheid, combined with the ruthless demand for vaccination passports without making the vaccines available to all nations, increases existing inequalities and makes it almost impossible for the world to win the war on the pandemic,” the statement said .

The political changes in both countries will begin on April 9th.

A surprising decision

Kenya’s chief secretary of state for foreign affairs, Macharia Kamau, told CNN in a phone call Tuesday that the move from London was “a bit of a surprise”.

“It is not that we have a runaway Covid situation in Kenya – we are not. It is not that we are not being very careful and it is not that we are not handling the situation here diligently “said Kamau, who previously served as Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations.

The Kenyan Foreign Office’s statement stated that all passengers arriving from or crossing UK airports will now be required to spend 14 days in quarantine in a government designated facility where they will have to perform two PCR tests at their own expense.

However, Kenyan nationals living in the UK and cargo flights are exempt from these measures.

The UK government’s actions go one step further. They say all travelers who have been to or through Kenya in the past 10 days will be denied entry to England. UK, Irish and resident third country nationals are allowed to enter but must self-isolate in a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days – also at their own expense.

“With more than 30 million vaccinations administered in the UK to date, the additional restrictions will help reduce the risk of new variants – such as those first identified in South Africa (SA) and Brazil – entering England,” it said British Ministry of Transport said in a statement when announcing the move.

Great Britain has almost 40 countries on its “red list”. Many of these countries are African or South American nations. However, European countries like France, which are currently experiencing a third wave of cases, are not on the list.

The decision to put Kenya on the “Red List” was made when Prime Minister Boris Johnson described April as “the month of the second dose”. The country gave more second doses than first doses of the vaccine per day for the first time on March 30.

In the UK, over 31 million people have now received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and according to the latest government data, more than 5 million have also received their second shot. The UK is seeing a decline in Covid-19 deaths and cases and is taking steps to open up its economy while Kenya is currently battling a third wave of Covid-19. London has no daily Covid-19 deaths for the first time in six months as cases soar in other parts of Europe

On March 26, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced curfews and a ban on almost all movement in or out of the country’s largest cities, including the capital, Nairobi, to combat the outbreak.

International flights were the exception to this travel ban.

However, there were far more deaths in the UK than in Kenya during the pandemic.

The death toll in Covid-19 was 2,258 on Tuesday, according to the country’s health ministry. The total death toll in Britain has exceeded more than 126,000, according to government figures. And the daily newly confirmed Covid-19 cases per million people in Kenya as of April 6 is 19.2, while the UK is 48.75, according to Our World in Data from Oxford University.

The number of confirmed cases is fewer than the number of actual cases in many countries due to reasons such as limited testing, according to Our World in Data.

“We have shown incredible responsibility here. We have kept our numbers impressively low. It is not a coincidence, but deliberate and political,” said Kamau. “If you look at other parts of the world, even our own continent, you will find that Kenya has a population of 50 million and, with its highly mobile population, was still able to do the necessary things.”

An urgent need for vaccines

Amid the dispute over the travel ban, some Kenyans – including those in the government – are highlighting the vaccine differences between London and Nairobi on social media.

Kenya’s UN Ambassador Martin Kimani tweeted, “If solidarity is just a word. First came vaccine nationalism, now we have vaccine apartheid,” while sharing the Kenyan Foreign Office’s press release on the UK travel ban on Twitter.

Kenya, a Commonwealth nation, has requested that the UK – a country with which it has a longstanding strategic relationship – share its vaccines. The Foreign Office statement said: “Kenya is aware that the UK has done this [vaccines] in larger quantities than is currently used. “

The UK – with a population of around 66 million people – has ordered more than 400 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from eight candidates. However, it has not yet received all of these doses and not all of these candidates have been approved by the UK Medicines Agency.

The Oxford / AstraZeneca and BioNTech / Pfizer vaccines are currently being administered, and it was announced on Wednesday that the Moderna vaccine would also be launched.

The UK Foreign Office declined to comment on the Kenyan statement when contacted by CNN. But the government has announced that it will share future surpluses once it has vaccinated its people. The UK has also pledged £ 548 million (US $ 753 million) to the COVAX program, which will deliver more than 1 billion vaccines to up to 92 low and middle income countries this year. Compared to the 31 million first shots in the UK, a total of 325,592 Kenyans received a Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, according to the latest information from the country’s health department. Africa's second wave of coronavirus was much worse than the first, the analysis showsKenya received its first shipment of vaccines – 1.02 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca shot – through the global COVAX program.

The shipment was part of an initial allotment of 3.5 million cans to Kenya.

“It is the only substantial amount of vaccine we have received. We absolutely applaud and celebrate it. But we are a country of 50 million people and it is imperative that we vaccinate at least a third of the population … we actually need tens of millions of vaccine doses, not millions, and we need them pretty badly if we are to effectively contain this pandemic, ”urged Kamau.

As part of its efforts to get the population vaccinated, Kenya approved the Russian emergency Sputnik V in March. This led to reports that people were privately buying the shots for around $ 70. Two lawyers claim to be the first two people in Kenya to have received a dose of Sputnik V – and tweeted pictures of themselves being vaccinated. CNN asked for a comment.

However, on April 2, the Ministry of Health announced that it had stopped importing and distributing the vaccines by the private sector in order to ensure “greater transparency and accountability”.

“There is nothing wrong with Sputnik V, just as there is nothing wrong with any other vaccine … but they must be introduced in a manner that complies with government regulations,” noted Kamau.

“In Kenya, vaccines are free for everyone,” he added.

To stop the global pandemic, rich countries must stop hoarding vaccines

Global inequality in access to Covid-19 vaccines has sparked great anger among African leaders, including South African President and Chairman of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa, who warned during a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum that richer countries “hoard” vaccines and demand global action to ensure fair introduction.

The global charity Oxfam, along with other members of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a network of campaigning NGOs, also called for an end to “vaccine apartheid”. A press release on Tuesday said that rich nations are vaccinating one person per second, while many developing countries are not yet required to give a single dose.

Kamau is not surprised at how things have turned out around the world and notes, “We live in an unequal world.”

“Vaccines are a basic human right,” he said. “They protect life, they improve people’s ability to fully live their lives, and they allow nations to remain interactive in trade, which is really at the heart of global development.”

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