Kenya: Crucial Kenya-Us Trade Talks Halted Over Virus Alarm

Trade

Talks on a Kenya-US trade deal have been put on hold due to concerns that members of Kenya's negotiating team were exposed to the coronavirus, a US-based news organisation said on Wednesday.

The Politico, a reputable web publication, attributed its report to "three people close to the talks".

An unspecified number of Kenyan negotiators were tested on Tuesday after being exposed to the virus at an office in Nairobi where technical teams had gathered, Politico said.

Test results are expected in the coming days, the news site added. It said the bilateral trade talks are primed to resume "as soon as possible."

"The potential spread among the team would be more disruptive than taking this precaution," Politico reported a Kenyan source close to the talks as having said.

TRADE AGREEMENT

The Trump administration has said it envisions a potential agreement with Kenya as a model that could lead to similar deals with other African countries.

Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina has said striking the bilateral trade agreement is crucial in the bid to "secure trade and investment relations" ahead of the lapse of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) in 2025, which eliminates import tariffs on goods from eligible African nations.

Members of the US negotiating team are mainly working from their homes. The Kenyan side is developing a plan that would enable its negotiators to work from home as well, an unnamed Kenyan official told Politico.

The reports came amid reports that top government officials had been infected with the virus. According to sources, three Cabinet secretaries have been reported to have tested positive but hospitals and state offices have been cagey about the reports.

On Friday, Government Spokesperson Col (rtd) Cyrus Oguna confirmed he had tested positive for Covid-19, while Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang'i denied social media reports that he had contracted the coronavirus.

After several denials, Col Oguna tweeted that he had the virus.

"I am now receiving treatment at an isolation and treatment facility. Contact tracing is ongoing and my family is fine. I urge all Kenyans to take this disease seriously and tale all the necessary precautions to avoid getting infected," Col Oguna wrote on Twitter.

Ministry of Health officials have been travelling around the country to assess counties' preparedness for Covid-19. Last week they toured the coastal counties of Mombasa and Kwale before some returned to Nairobi. Col Oguna proceeded to Malindi. He tested positive last week at the Defence Forces Memorial Hospital.

Dr Matiang'i, on his part, criticised those manufacturing information to humiliate those in public service by claiming they had the virus.

The statements by the two officials were meant to put to rest social media speculation about the health status of VIPs and public servants amid surging Covid-19 infections in the country.

In an interview in his Harambee House office, Dr Matiang'i talked of the distress he and his family had been subjected to by the rumours, the government's response to combating the pandemic and his role as the Chairman of the National Development Implementation and Communication Committee.

"I feel for my family. My innocent wife and children -- private citizens living their own lives -- but they have to endure these kind of rumours. They have to pay a heavy price because one of them is in public service."

TAKEN ILL

The rumours on his illness started circulating on Thursday night, with the authors claiming that the CS, who chairs the National Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19, had been taken ill.

There have also been reports that two other ministes are infected.

"There is nothing wrong with a Cabinet Secretary getting sick. We get sick because we are human beings," he said, revealing that he had gone for tests three times in the past three months.

"I cannot pretend that I can't get the infection. There is nothing strange with CSs getting sick but I find this funny because the perception appears to be that once we get into public office we can't get sick. It is not true."

He said the rumours had been engineered by people unhappy with his work.

"These are distractions. They want me to sit there and sulk so that I don't achieve the objectives given to me by the President. Focus is key and they know I will fail once I get distracted."

He said that he had filed a complaint with the police to establish the source of the rumours.

The Covid-19 pandemic has threatened to cripple government operations, with civil servants, some holding critical offices, testing positive for the coronavirus in the past two weeks.

Reporting by Angela Oketch, Ibrahim Oruko and Kevin J Kelley

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