Kenya has identified the very first case of an individual with two Covid-19 variants, joining very few countries in the world that have reported them.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said this is not good news as they have been detected in a person who doesn’t have history of travel in and out of the country, meaning that the transmissions are going on in the community.
The two variants – the B.1.1.7/501Y.V1 and B.1.617.2 – have a UK and Indian lineage respectively having been first detected in the UK in September 2020 and in India in November 2020.
Unfortunately, this comes at a time when Kisumu City – which is preparing to host this year’s Madaraka Day celebration – has the highest number of positive cases recorded in the last 24 hours at 57.
To underline the seriousness with which Kenyans should treat this latest information, Kagwe said there is also a third variant – B.1.351/502Y. V2 – with its origin in South Africa having been first detected in October 2020.
“As of May 25, 2021, three (3) SARS-Cov-2 genetic variants had been detected in the country. They are described as variants of Concern (VOC) given their potential impact on control efforts of Covid-19 pandemic,” the CS said at Afya House on a day 11 people succumbed to the disease as the country reported 341 new positive cases drawn from 3, 646.
This reflects a positivity rate of 9.4 per cent up from 7.4 per cent on Wednesday with the Western Kenya region; Kisumu and adjacent counties posting cumulatively 140 positive cases out of the 341.
“From the cases, 329 are Kenyans while 12 are foreigners,” Kagwe said indicating that the total confirmed positive cases now stand at 169, 697 from a cumulative test so far conducted of 1, 796, 585.
The CS, however, said the two variants detected in the one case have been subjected to further investigations through genome surveillance in order to understand them properly.
The CS said the Covid-19 variants from UK, India and South Africa detected in 39 samples from Kenyans with no travel history.
“It is important to note that, the ongoing genomic surveillance has revealed early and established community transmission, of both UK and Indian variants of concern in Kisumu, Mombasa and Kilifi counties.
“It’s even more concerning that none of the 39 affected individuals has a history of travelling out and into the country,” he added after meeting Kisumu Governor, Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o and experts from the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Kenyan epidemiologists. The meeting was prompted by concerns about a string of Covid-19 variants developing in Kenya.
Kagwe noted that this is an indication of an ongoing widespread community transmission.
“The County Government of Kisumu has isolated the affected individuals and heightened contact tracing for potentially exposed individuals,” he said.
In a recent sequencing of 39 SARS-CoV-2 RT PCR positive samples from Kisumu sub-counties, experts found 28 samples aligned with the Indian Variant (B1.617.1), six allied with UK Variant (B.1.1.7), one sample aligned with the South African Variant (B.1.351), three samples aligned with B.1.612 (first identified in India).
The CS said one sample – with both the UK and the Indian Variants – is undergoing further sequencing. This last case is a novel finding with significant public health implications, he noted.
Emerging evidence indicates that, the variants of concern are more transmissible, have a higher secondary attack rate and spread faster among susceptible persons.
The Indian variant, for instance, Kagwe said has been reported to be 50 per cent more transmissible than the UK variant.
“As of now, there is no evidence that B.1.617 is causing more severe illness. However, the associated surge in cases has been straining the health systems in affected counties,” he said.
But, the good news, he noted, is that emerging evidence shows some of the existing vaccines such as the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer, are effective against some of these variants. “Nonetheless, we have not been able to roll out vaccination programmes as we would have wished due to supply constraints,” he added.
More evidence shows that countries that are experiencing a surge of Covid-19 cases due to the emerging variants of concern. However, they have had their situations compounded by large social and public gatherings, and a limited availability of the Covid-19 vaccines.
“In view of these developments, and given that the County Government of Kisumu is supposed to host this year’s Madaraka Day celebrations, there are ongoing deliberations between the national government and the County on the manner in which the day will be marked and we shall be making further announcements after these deliberations,” Kagwe said as Nyong’o announced that the number of expected guests at the Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium had been considerably scaled down.
“We had expected about 30, 000 guests to attend the celebrations, but due to the surge in Covid-19 infections, which have been compounded by the emergence of the new variants, we are forced to cut out 27, 000 Kenyans from attending,” the Kisumu Governor said.
According to him, the 3, 000 guests who will attend are invite-only and are expected to carry with them their invitation cards, and strictly observe the public health protocols.
“We will not even have crowds outside the venue. People are being advised to monitor the celebrations from their homes,” he stated.
Kisumu is leading in terms of county distribution with 57 cases followed by Nairobi with 48, Siaya (36); Mombasa and Kericho have 22 cases each, whereas Kirinyaga’s positive cases in the last 24 hours stand at 19 followed by Homabay and Nyamira with 14 and 12 cases respectively.
Kagwe said 144 patients have recovered from the disease yesterday, 96 from the home-based and Isolation Care, while 48 are from various health facilities across the country.
“Total recoveries now stand at 115, 988 of whom 84, 347 are from Home Based Care and isolation, while 31, 641 are from various health facilities,” he added.
He said a total of 1, 067 patients are currently admitted in various health facilities countrywide, while 4, 680 are under the home-based Isolation and Care Program. 104 patients are in the Intensive care Unit (ICU), 20 of whom are on ventilator support and 60 on supplemented oxygen.