Kenya: UK’s Festival of Hypocrisy in Subjective Covid-19 ‘Red List’

As Britain reopened its pubs and restaurants on Monday amid cheers from revellers, the same is not being felt in the select countries it has decided to put on the “red list” as the Covid-19 scapegoats of Whitehall.

Questions are now being raised on the scientific criteria used by the UK to select some countries for the red list and whether it is going to work.

“The trouble with red lists is that we usually get the wrong countries, infected people come in by other routes and lists discourage countries trying to find new variants,” Ravi Gupta, a professor of microbiology at the University of Cambridge, was quoted by British Broadcasting Corporation.

While Kenya has been targeted for ostensibly having the South African variant, there are more than 64 countries which have reported the presence of the variant according to World Health Organisation (WHO), but the British target has been on mainly African and South American countries.

There are 18 African countries (46 percent) on the list and 12 from South America and Caribbean (30 percent) and the balance from Asia.

Records indicate that rich nations such as France, Austria, Norway and Japan, have also found cases of the South African variant with France, for instance, reporting 5 percent of this variant in its growing numbers of infections. But these nations are not in the UK red list. The only odd nation is United Arab Emirates.

On March 30, a UK legislator had questioned the scientific criteria for putting Pakistan, for instance, on the red list.

He lamented that, in the last week of March, France, Germany and India had recorded “substantially high numbers” of infections per 100,000 compared to Kenya, Pakistan and Bangladesh which had been targeted.

South African variant

While Pakistan had 13 cases per 100,000, France had 103, Germany (137), UK (54), India (24), Kenya (17), and Bangladesh 15 cases.

More so, while a UK variant had spread to more than 50 countries –compared to the South African variant which has been detected in slightly over 20 countries–few countries had punished London for that.

Turkey on Monday reported that 85 percent of its new cases are as a result of the UK variant but its Minister for Tourism, Mehmet Ersoy, told local media that his country was “looking forward to welcoming British tourists with open arms” during the holiday season.

Kenya has already dismissed the red-list as “punitive… discriminatory, divisive and exclusive in their character.”

Rwanda, which is also on the list, has been leading in the vaccination exercise in Africa targeting everyone.

But London said the decision was taken by UK ministers on March 31 following a “review of the latest scientific evidence” pertaining to the risk of community transmission of Covid-19 variants.

But with the opening of pubs and restaurants in UK, it now seems that the risk of community transmission was hypocritical, according to observers.

“The fact that there have been travellers emanating from Nairobi that have allegedly tested positive in London is not exclusive to Kenya, and in Kenya’s opinion hardly justifies the red-listing of travellers from Kenya,” said Kenya in its protest letter dated April 3, and addressed to the British High Commission in Nairobi.

Discriminatory decision

While Britain says more than 32 million of its population had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and of those 7.6 million have had their second dose, Kenya feels short-changed since both countries participated in the trial of the Astrazeneca vaccine trials carried out in Kilifi by Oxford University.

Kenya, which is currently struggling to get access to vaccines, says that given its contribution, the UK should have “in solidarity” offered support to Kenya through the provision of vaccines which the UK “has in bigger quantities than it is currently using.”

Kenya has now been left at the mercy of India, which has restricted export of the Astrazeneca vaccine as cases in the country rose to new levels.

While it is not clear how Kenya ended up on the red list, in October last year, Dominic Raab, the British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs had told British parliament that he receives “regular updates” on Kenya from the High Commission in Nairobi and from other countries, which “remain key mechanism by which we monitor the progression of Covid-19”.