We’re publishing a guest post today by Aidan Hartley, a former war correspondent, award-winning author and the owner of a cattle ranch in Kenya. He is dismayed by the introduction of a vaccine passport scheme for travel between Kenya and the U.K. that is such a dog’s breakfast it is damaging relations between the two countries. Incredibly, even if you’ve been double jabbed in Kenya with AstraZeneca donated to the country by the U.K. Government, you still have to quarantine on arrival in the U.K., unlike those who’ve had the U.K.-administered AstraZeneca jab.
A joint statement on 21st September by Jane Marriot, Britain’s High Commissioner to Nairobi, and Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, announced plans for a “system to mutually recognise each other’s vaccine certificates for a vaccine passport programme for travel”. Unfortunately, since the U.K. refuses to recognise vaccine certificates issued by Kenya, travel between the two countries is cumbersome and needlessly expensive.
In Kenya we heard with great relief that from September 22nd, my home country in East Africa was being moved off Britain’s travel red list. Since early April the travel restrictions had divided families and severely disrupted international businesses, including my own. All non-Britons from Kenya, unless they were U.K. residents, were banned from entering the U.K., while qualifying arrivals to Heathrow or Gatwick faced 11-day incarcerations in squalid quarantine hotels at a cost of £2,250.
The U.K. imposed such extreme measures with the excuse that a “significant” number of passengers arriving in the U.K. from Nairobi had tested positive for a variant of concern – from South Africa. It later transpired that, in fact, only 17 out of 2,993 passengers from Kenya in the six weeks prior to the red-listing had tested positive for the South African variant.
When the red-listing was first introduced, the measures so infuriated Nairobi’s Government that all British passport holders were banned from entry to Kenya, even if they had made their homes here. All other nations were exempted from these sanctions. Later, Kenya mirrored Britain’s measures and decreed that U.K. arrivals would have to quarantine in a Government-approved facility in which conditions were so grim that last year one woman hanged herself while incarcerated. Like other poor countries, Kenya blamed its slow progress against the pandemic on the rich world’s “vaccine apartheid”.
Stranded Britons got no help from the FCDO – known as “Fuck-Do” to its own employees here in Kenya – who told them to ask the Kenyan authorities for guidance. The GOV.UK website copied and pasted a Kenyan airport authority’s poorly drafted statement about sanctions against U.K. citizens.
During one of her elbow-bumping meetings with Nairobi officials, Jane Marriot promised that Kenya could come off the U.K.’s red list when the African country had vaccinated more people and improved its national capacity to carry out genomic sequencing in order to identify new Covid variants. In July, to coincide with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to London, Britain announced that a donation of 817,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines were on their way to its former colony. Uhuru and Boris also agreed a new programme to send up to 20,000 unemployed Kenyan nurses over to work for the NHS.
After several months and apparently thanks to lobbying by dozens of British mothers desperate to bring their children home for the summer holidays rather than the FCDO, Kenya announced that Britons were welcome to fly into the country without quarantine restrictions.
In the post-Brexit world, Kenya is a pillar of good relations in the Commonwealth, a key trade partner, base for dozens of MI6 agents and host for the largest British Army infantry training exercises anywhere overseas. Kenya was among the countries that took part in phase one trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine last year. Up to 30,000 Britons live in this former colony and British companies are among the top investors and taxpayers. Until Covid, the U.K. was the second most important source of tourism income to Kenya’s safaris and beach holidays. In the eyes of many Kenyans, the travel restrictions have damaged relations.
Even celebrations at Kenya’s removal from the red list – alongside Turkey, Pakistan, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman and Bangladesh – were cut short. To this day, the U.K. refuses to recognise certificates of vaccination from Kenya – even if, like me, you’ve been jabbed with one of the 817,000 AstraZeneca vaccine donated by Britain to Kenya. Passengers from Kenya to the U.K. must still take a pre-departure PCR test, then self-isolate after arrival with day two and day eight tests (unless released after a day five negative PCR).
Kenyans have understandably become suspicious, wondering whether the U.K. is dumping dodgy batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Africa. Why else would vaccinated Kenyans be treated differently by the British authorities to arrivals from other countries? Many Kenyans are already reluctant to submit to any type of Covid jab – and less than 2% of the population has been injected. An additional irony is that there are so many medical personnel now on their way to the U.K. that there’s a good chance the nurse who jabs you in the NHS will be a Kenyan national anyway.
The September 21st joint U.K.-Kenyan statement about plans to introduce vaccine passports was issued to “clear up any concerns on vaccine certification”. Nairobi has previously said that from 2022 all citizens will have to obtain a vaccine passport if they wish to travel overseas.
Passengers en route to the U.K., meanwhile, are at risk of incarceration on arrival due to contradictory information on the GOV.UK website – even if they’ve been double-jabbed in the U.K. I have just heard about the case of a retired British police officer who visited Kenya to work on a brief contract for the United Nations. She had an NHS double vaccination certificate and her flight home was booked via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, timed to land at Heathrow on the morning of 22nd September, by which time Kenya would be off the red list. Despite Ethiopia still being on the red list, the woman assumed she was in the clear because the GOV.UK website advised that “transiting passengers are exempt from the current quarantine restrictions for COVID-19”.
While in transit in Ethiopia, the former police officer was thrown off her connecting flight to London and told the only way she could get home would be if she paid up front for a quarantine hotel package at Heathrow and filled out a new red list passenger locator form. On arrival at Heathrow, “border force refused to accept their own Ethiopia specific guidance… Despite having travelled from an amber country, with proof of NHS issued vaccinations, and following FCDO issued advice, I find myself facing a £2,250 hotel bill simply because FCDO cannot issue coherent advice to its nationals or ensure that border force and immigration have clear guidance”.
Welcome to the post-Covid world, where you cannot travel between countries without a vaccine passport and even if you’ve got one you’ll be incarcerated in a quarantine ‘hotel’ anyway.