The first recorded patient in East Africa carrying the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) landed in Nairobi on Tuesday, January 28, via Kenya Airways. The patient is being quarantined at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. Shortly before the plane’s arrival, the Chinese Embassy in Kenya announced it would be closely monitoring flights arriving from China. The Nairobi–Guangzhou direct flight route is one of the most heavily used transportation links between China and Africa.
African countries urgently need to take proactive steps to prevent contamination and spread. Côte d’Ivoire and Botswana have also reported suspected cases of infection with the virus, and Ethiopia is reported to have quarantined four potential virus carriers in Addis Ababa.
Kenyan port authorities increased surveillance at all ports of entry, measuring passengers’ body temperature as early as the previous week. Standard procedure as laid out by Kenya Airways is that all passengers must undergo quarantine screening by health authorities before boarding an aircraft.
These are crucial steps to prevent the spread of a disease, which Africa learned the hard way after the 2014 Ebola outbreak, but they may not be enough. The coronavirus-carrying passenger who landed in Nairobi was screened and cleared by Chinese health authorities before boarding their flight in Guangzhou. This is partly because of the incubation period for 2019-nCoV, which is estimated to be between two and fourteen days. So it may take two weeks after being infected before someone shows symptoms, and during this time they can spread the virus.