Kenya: COVID-19 - State Races to Trace Kitui Priest's Contacts

More than 50 people in Kitui that came into contact with a Catholic priest who travelled from Italy last week and failed to isolate himself are being sought by local health authorities to undergo Covid-19 testing after he tested positive for the illness.

The priest, Nicholas Maanzo, who had been on a year-long study tour in Rome, was on Sunday rushed to the isolation centre at Mbagathi Hospital after exhibiting coronavirus-like symptoms including breathing difficulties.

A day later, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe reported that Kitui County had confirmed its first coronavirus case, as Kenya's total hit 50.

REPORTED BY OWN FAMILY

He caused panic in his Kihara village community after failing to quarantine himself in line with the government directive for people returning from abroad, prompting police and health officials to raid his home.

Police were alerted by his own family members who complained that the man of cloth arrived in Kenya on Monday March 23 but was venturing out in the evening before the mandatory 14 days had lapsed, thus endangering those he came into contact with.

Among those being sought for testing include boda boda operators, staff at Magunas Supermarket in Kitui where he shopped and an unknown number of people who visited the local Absa Bank (formerly Barclays Bank) ATM where the priest withdrew cash on the evening of Tuesday March 24.

According to Dr Richard Muthoka, Kitui Chief Officer for Health, others mapped by virtue of having contact with him include members of his own household, neighbours, and Catholic nuns at the Kwa-Ngindu Sisters of Good Shepherd where he passed on his way home.

Dr Muthoka said authorities ordered CCTV footage from both the Absa ATM and Magunas Supermarket to review and ascertain the number of people the priest came into direct or indirect contact with.

"We have asked for footage from the two places. At Absa, we intend to trace all the people who transacted from the ATM or entered the facility after him," he said, adding that the bank's records will also help.

The Chief Officer asked anyone who met the priest since he arrived in the country to voluntarily come forward for testing and provide further information.

Dr Muthoka said they are tracing a preliminary number of 50 people, who will be taken to the isolation centre at Kauwi Level Four Hospital in Kitui west, awaiting results for their tests, but that the figure may rise.

JOURNALISTS, POLICE

This number may go up if journalists who accompanied a team of police and health officials who raided the priest's home on Wednesday March 25 are deemed to have been exposed.

"Looking at his movements, we've established that he was staying with two people in his house and interacted with more people at Kunda Kindu matatu terminus and the driver who dropped him from JKIA," he said.

When police visited his home, the priest alleged that he went out to look for food as he had no one to task with errands.

According to Kitui central DCI boss Nzioka Singi, the priest who returned from Italy through Ireland was reprimanded for violating a government directive on self-quarantine.

"We visited him to establish why he flouted the self-quarantine rules. He has explained that he didn't have food and had ventured out to do some shopping," said Mr Singi, adding they cautioned him not to venture out again until 14 days lapse.

"By going out on Tuesday night you may have exposed many people should it emerge that you are sick. We are hoping that you are not sick otherwise you will be arrested and charge you in court," said Mr Singi.

Italy has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases and fatalities in Europe and the world, with the World Health Organisation reporting that the country's death toll has surpassed 10,000 deaths and 92,472 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of yesterday.

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