Check-in desks at Heathrow airport Terminal 5 in west London on September 9, 2019. Photo AFP
Technical teams formed by Kenya and the United Kingdom are expected to start talks on Friday to establish a bilateral protocol to be used in governing travel during this pandemic season.
The teams were formed after the first meeting of a joint emergency taskforce of both countries, on Thursday, and their recommendations will be used to guide how the two countries manage passenger travel to control spread of Covid-19.
These specialised committees could determine when a mutual travel ban imposed between the two countries will be lifted.
On Thursday, officials from both sides, forming the Joint Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19, met virtually and agreed to delegate the specific tasks to the committees.
The Emergency Committee was created by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Foreign Affairs Raychelle Omamo and UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab “to explore ways to resolve ongoing travel restrictions between the two countries.”
The Kenyan team on Thursday also included Health Principal Secretary (PS) Susan Mochache, Transport PS Solomon Kitungu and Trade Secretary Linyuru Bruno.
Co-Chaired by Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau, and Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office Africa Director Irfan Siddiq, the Emergency Response Committee meeting resolved to have specialised teams to look into gaps and “report back in a few days.”
There were no timelines or deadlines given to the teams.
The teams have representatives from the scientific community and other related experts on health and travel.
Sources told The EastAfrican that the experts will be given sufficient time to ensure all critical issues of testing and validity of results and vaccination certificates are addressed.
The UK had on April 2 announced restrictions on passengers travelling from Kenya to the UK, citing increasing cases of the South African variant of Covid-19. Kenya reacted promptly and banned passenger flights from the UK, and accused London of discrimination.
Sources said the earliest passenger flights can resume will be in May, but no definite date was given.
“We are not working with guns on our heads. The technical teams will have sufficient time to address the issues of concerns,” a diplomat told The EastAfrican on Thursday.
Cargo transportation, which had been exempted in the ban, was also temporarily disrupted as both sides discuss what will constitute valid documentation. As it is, crew must bear a valid negative test, taken not more than 96 hours before arrival. Nairobi had added a new demand that crew bear vaccination certificates.
Both countries are running vaccinations, but pilots have not received certificates. In the UK, only pilots who fit in a certain age category or in special groups identified based on health have been vaccinated.
The two countries were yet to decide whether a vaccination card issued in the UK would be a valid certificate in Kenya. Nairobi has not started giving vaccination certificates.
London argued that Kenya’s Covid-19 certifications for travellers have been faulty, with nearly 30 per cent of weekly 550 arrivals testing positive a day after arriving. Most of them had the South African variant of Covid-19, the UK said.
The UK has proposed that Kenya introduce rapid testing at airports to weed out fake or invalid travel certificates. That may take at least a month to implement. Travellers will be required to pay $25 at the airport for a spot test.
The suspension of UK-Kenya flights is likely to hurt the entire eastern African region.
Kenya was the last connecting hub in the region to be put on the UK’s Red List, a group of 39 countries where travel is either banned or restricted to control the spread of Covid-19.
In the region, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ethiopia had already been placed on the Red List. And Africa’s main connecting transport hubs Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa as well as Dubai and Doha in the Middle East are now all blocked by the UK. - Aggrey Mutambo, The EastAfrican