Kenya bans public events after confirming first coronavirus case

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya has banned all major public events after confirming East Africa’s first case of the new coronavirus, in a woman who had returned to Kenya from the United States, the health minister said on Friday.

Kenya, the richest economy in the region and a major hub for global firms and the United Nations, is the 11th country in sub-Saharan Africa to confirm a case of COVID-19 after South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and others, bringing the total reported cases to 39.

Mutahi Kagwe, Kenya’s health minister, told a news conference the government had suspended all public gatherings, sporting events, open-air religious meetings and “all events that are of a huge public nature”.

He said schools would remain open but all inter-school events would be suspended.

Soon after the announcement, shoppers filled an outlet of Carrefour near the U.N. office, buying up hand sanitizers and soap.

Kagwe said the patient had been diagnosed at the government’s national influenza center laboratory on the night of March 12, after traveling home via London on March 5.

The 27-year-old Kenyan is stable and her temperature has gone to down to normal, the minister said.

“She cannot be released … until she gets negative,” he said.

She is being treated at the government’s biggest health facility, the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

The government has traced most of the people she has been in contact with, including fellow passengers on the flight home, and a government response team will monitor their temperatures for the next two weeks.

The reported cases in Sub-Saharan Africa have mainly been in foreigners or locals who had traveled abroad, but concerns are growing about the continent’s ability to handle a potential rapid spread of a virus that has infected 127,000 and killed 4,700 worldwide.

Kagwe sought to reassure the public, but warned that people have to change their habits.

“Going forward there will be some inconveniences that citizens are going to experience,” he said.

Kenya, which is dependent on imports from China and other Asian countries, has started to feel the impact of the coronavirus pandemic with disruptions to the supply chain.

Kagwe warned traders: “This is not the time to make abnormal profits by charging abnormal prices.”

Kenya Airways suspended flights to China last month and on Thursday it added Rome and Geneva to the list of suspended destinations.

Tourism, an important source of hard currency and jobs for Kenya, has also started to feel the impact of the turmoil caused by the outbreak, said Najib Balala, the minister of tourism.

“Definitely we are going to be hit badly,” Balala told the same news conference, citing the impact of the virus on source markets like Europe and the United States.

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