Kenya: UK Envoy Marriott Says Travel Restriction on Kenya Was to Prevent New Covid-19 Variants

Nairobi — United Kingdom High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott has defended her coutry's decision to impose travel restrictions against travelers from the country.

Marriott said the decision was arrived at due to increased cases of COVID-19 variants that were detected on a third of travelers from Kenya.

"There is significant number of people coming from Kenya who are testing positive for this B135 variant. That is essentially why the UK put travel restrictions place. It was not personal," she said during Kenya Editors Guild press Club held Tuesday.

With a much older population than Kenya, she said the UK is extremely cautious to ensure no new variants get to their country.

The UK announced travel restrictions on visitors from Kenya last month, in what raised a diplomatic storm prompting Kenya to reciprocate.

Nairobi also accused Britain of failing to share its Johnson and Johnson vaccine with developing countries, terming the practice "vaccine apartheid."

But on Tuesday, the UK envoy said the decision to impose travel restrictions was purely to protect UK nationals. The B135 variant originated from South Africa.

The UK has more than 3 million people who are aged more than 80 years, making them more vulnerable.

"Back in the UK, lockdown is, you cannot see other people. My poor 80-year-old parents have not seen other human beings for the best part of the year. They get to go to the supermarket, once a week," she said, "And frankly, they look like they are in some sort of a horror movie in terms of dressing up and protecting themselves while going to the supermarket."

According to the BBC, more than 35 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine - part of the biggest inoculation programme the country has ever launched.

Further, the UK government said it plans to vaccinate the rest of the adult population, another 21 million people, by the end of July.

But the fear of new variants, she said, remains a major concern.

"UK vaccine numbers are going up, we are starting to open our economy, but we do not know the impact of these new variants vis a vis the vaccines. And our real worry is that if a new variant gets into our new country, that essentially means, you will have to start the whole thing again... and we have to shut down again while research is being worked through," she said.

"We are being super cautious of what potential variants can get into the UK."

The United Kingdom has had 3.88 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 120,000 deaths.

Kenya's caseload since March 2020 has reached 164,000 cases, of which 2,907 have succumbed to the disease.

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