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Voyage and vaccine inequities spark diplomatic row

A 'special relationship' between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Premier Boris Johnson seems to have gone off the rails

Angered by Britain's decision to put Kenya on its 'red list' of banned countries with coronavirus infection rates, President Uhuru Kenyatta's government responded by cancelling all direct flights from Britain. The foreign ministry also accused Britain and other wealthy countries of practising 'vaccine apartheid' by 'hoarding' jabs

Having initially stayed off Britain's 'red list' of countries from which arriving travellers must quarantine for 10 days in a designated hotel at a cost of £1,750 per person –  even though all of Kenya's neighbours were on it – Kenya was added on Friday (9 April) after a sharp rise in Covid cases as it suffers a third wave of the pandemic.

That was seen as an affront by the Kenyatta government, which has been promised privileged trade and security relations with Britain's Conservative government, and signed a post-Brexit trade agreement with the former colonial power last month (AC Vol 62 No 5, In on the act).

Should the tit-for-tat travel blockade last more than a matter of weeks, however, that will leave a big dent in bilateral trade and tourism receipts. London is likely to allow foreign travel to resume from mid-May, though only a handful of countries are likely to allow quarantine-free travel.

The broadside reflects the growing frustration among African states at the glacial pace of vaccine delivery, while the UK, European Union and others battle over the delivery of jabs.

Kenya has received just over a million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax initiative but the UK has indicated that, despite promising to distribute surplus vaccines, this is unlikely to happen any time soon (AC Dispatches, As questions mount over vaccinations, Kenyatta battens down the hatches again). It has, however, had the effect of prompting the British and Kenyan governments to establish a Joint Committee tasked with ending the travel restrictions.

This spat, which shows the links between infection levels and travel safety, will shine a light on the wider issue of vaccine inequities. On 9 April, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation argued that vaccine access should be seen as security issue in Africa.

It reports that the latest data shows a 9% rise in Coronavirus cases in Africa in a month, and that the average 2.7% case fatality in Africa is now higher than the global average of 2.2%. By mid-March, the Foundation said, Africa had received just 0.5% of available global vaccines although the continent has 17% of the world's population.


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