Some 400 Chinese nationals are preparing to leave the country this coming week over fears of Covid-19.
The Chinese have obtained an order from a High Court in Nairobi directing the Kenya government to allow them to leave on June 16, arguing that Kenya’s health system does not have the capacity to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
Justice Weldon Korir issued the orders after the Chinese sought special permission to allow evacuation flights to take them home. They argued that Kenya’s health system cannot handle huge infection numbers in the event that the pandemic spreads rapidly in the country.
Mr Isaac Okinyo, their lawyer, told the Nation that everything is now in place and that his clients are only awaiting approval to travel from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They say they have a better chance of treatment in China, as Kenya does not have enough health facilities and equipment to manage coronavirus patients.
“They have underlying conditions and others just don’t feel safe here,” he said. “All the isolation centers are full, testing and contact tracing is a big deal to the Kenyan government. Let them just go back home as they so wish,” he said. The group, mainly living in Nairobi, is expected to be led by the Chinese ambassador to Kenya Wu Peng, who has been recalled to Beijing. Reports say that Mr. Wu has gone home on a “promotion”.
China was the ground zero of the novel coronavirus after it alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31 2019, about several cases of unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. What started as an epidemic in China has now become a global pandemic infecting more than seven million people and killing at least 406,000 people worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University Covid-19 dashboard, which collates information from national and international health authorities.
Since then, the virus has spread to about 200 countries, with the US, Brazil and Russia experiencing the most widespread outbreaks, followed by the UK, Spain and Italy. Kenya has confirmed 3,305 cases and 96 deaths as of Friday. According to Mr Okinyo, after the ban on international travel, the request was subject to a court process, followed by a clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before evacuation is conducted. He filed the request on Tuesday last week at the Kibera Law Court before Justice Korir.
“We went to court last week and argued why it was necessary for the China citizens to be evacuated since they are considered vulnerable and would wish to go back home. I don’t think there is anything to stop them. We were given the go-ahead to process their evacuation,” Mr Okinyo said.
Given that they are foreigners with a government-to-government agreement, he wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after a discussion with the Chinese embassy requesting that they be cleared to leave the country on Tuesday. “We are still waiting for response, although everything is ready and they are set to go any time,” Mr Okinyo told the Saturday Nation.
Under the foreign International laws, foreigners have to notify government officials to process their foreign exit before they are allowed to leave. A Chinese woman among those preparing to travel home said it has become hard to live in Kenya, as Chinese are suspected to be Covid-19 carriers.
“The other day, I went to a supermarket and people were literally running away from me. In most hospitals, even if you are just going for a normal check-up, they insist that all Chinese residents be tested for Covid-19,” said the woman. She said she will be leaving with her family. “I am not sure whether I will come back. Time will tell,” she said.
Asked whether she feels safe in China, the original epicentre of the virus, now experiencing a second wave of infection, she said she would feel safe at home. In Mid-February, there was outrage in Kenya when 239 passengers arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on a China South Airlines plane.
Kenyans were angered by the government’s decision to allow the travellers to self-quarantine. Kenyans were also furious that Chinese were allowed to fly into Kenya while desperate Kenyan students in Wuhan remained stranded in the city after they were barred from returning home, although they were healthy.
Justice James Makau ordered the government to suspend all the flights from china and pursue, round up and lock up all the passengers at a military or health facility.
The planned flight also marks the end of Ambassador Wu’s short tour of duty in Kenya. Mr Wu, born in 1967, had been prominent on Kenyan media ever since he arrived in March 2019, replacing Ms Sun Baohong, who had been recalled in December 2018 for lighter duties over poor health.
Beijing has not publicly explained Mr Wu’s redeployment, but sources indicated he would be leaving the country next week to take up new duties in Beijing in a yet-to-be announced position. Mr Wu mixed his experience from politics back home and years in Foreign Service to manoeuvre the delicate Chinese-Kenya relations.
By the time he arrived in Nairobi, the controversies surrounding the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), treatment of Kenyan employees by Chinese firms as well as the secrecy surrounding Beijing’s loans to Kenya, were among the issues that the ambassador faced.
“There is no secret between the Chinese and Kenyan governments. Any loan agreements between China and Kenya are in line with international practice,” he told the Nation in an interview last year, six weeks after presenting his credentials.
“None of Kenyan national assets has been mortgaged for the SGR loan and neither would any national asset be seized or controlled by China, even in a situation of default.”
Mr Wu’s arrival saw greater presence of the Chinese embassy online, running Twitter and Facebook accounts on activities as well as policies of his country. Both social media platforms are banned in mainland china, but he and several other diplomats from Beijing, learnt of its crucial importance in Kenya. His most recent public relations disaster was in the alleged mistreatment of Africans in China over the testing of Covid-19.
China denied it all through and its diplomats, including Mr Wu, were vocal in the mainstream and social media, clarifying mistakes in the pandemic control, but also vowing that there would be no relaxation of the strict measures China imposed.