Coronavirus: Ethiopian Airlines CEO explains decision to continue flights to China

The coronavirus was confirmed in the Chinese city of Wuhan on January 7, 2020. Cases have since been confirmed in several other Asian countries, Europe and the United States.

The World Health Organisation, WHO, has since declared it a public health emergency of international dimensions. WHO chief Tedros Ghebereyesus said whiles China had a robust health system to detect and control, his outfit remained concerned about the virus entering country’s with weak systems.

Almost all African governments have publicly put in place strict screening at points of entry especially airports. Ivory Coast, Kenya, Ethiopia and Botswana have recorded suspected cases. All except Botswana have reported that the tests were negative. African airlines have cancelled scheduled flights to China except for Ethiopian Airlines.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that range from the common cold to MERS coronavirus, which is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus and SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus.

In this article, we will share the latest developments as authorities implement measures to contain the spread of the virus, especially on the African continent.

  • Ethiopian defends stance on flying to China
  • Africa ADC asks countries to allow citizens return home
  • Ethiopia to quarantine all Wuhan entrants
  • Ghana records negative outcome for two suspected cases
  • Kenya to repatriate its students from Chinese city of Wuhan
  • Chinese embassy in Kenya issues orders
  • Africa’s first infection happens in China
  • African trio record cases, Air Tanzania ditches China route
  • Kenyan records new case, Nigeria ‘battle ready’
  • African airlines suspend flights to China
  • Ethiopia suspected cases test negative
  • Ethiopian Airlines denies reports of suspending flights
  • Ivory Coast’s suspected case tests negative
  • Mozambique suspends visa-on-arrival for travelers from China
  • Ethiopia isolates four suspected cases
  • Kenya rushes suspected case to hospital
  • Ivory Coast conducts first tests on African continent

Interview: Ethiopian student in Wuhan shares lockdown experience

Ethiopian Airlines explains stance on China routes

Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer Tewolde Gebremariam has defended the company’s decision to maintain flights to China, arguing that suspending flights to the country would not end the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Ethiopian Airlines operates 35 weekly flights to five destinations in China, and Ethiopian on average transports 4,000 Chinese between China and Africa daily. Ethiopian serves Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

“As WHO clearly stated that suspending flights to China would not end the coronavirus outbreak as victims of the virus are located in other countries,” Tewolde told The Reporter.

‘‘If we stop flying to China we can still bring passengers from Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and that originated from China. So the most important thing is to strengthen the passenger screening mechanism and follow the WHO procedures.’‘

Seventy percent of the Chinese passengers arriving Addis Ababa Bole International Airport transit to other African countries.

Tewolde says the airline has opted to follow the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations that emphasise screening, rather than travel restrictions.

“We should not isolate China. We should not marginalize Chinese passengers. What we should do is screen passengers in accordance with the WHO guidelines,” he added.

The Director General of the Ethiopian Public Health Institute Doctor Eba Abate also defended the airline’s decision, saying the coronavirus cases reported in the five cities that Ethiopian flies to is minimal.

According to Dr. Eba, body temperature of 47,167 passengers have been checked out of which 1,607 were from countries which reported cases of coronavirus. The institute is in the process to import the detergent used to test coronavirus.

‘Allow your citizens to return from China’

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is appealing to o African countries to allow their citizens return home from China.

Several countries including Uganda and Kenya have been officially rejecting calls fro evacuation from their citizens in China.

“For Africans who are returning from China, we have the obligation to receive our citizens and keep them for a while and monitor them and release them into the community because as of yesterday, we started receiving reports that some countries are refusing their own citizens from coming back to the country. It cannot happen,” Africa CDC director Dr. John Nkengasong said.

The centre says it has trained 15 African countries that were most at risk and they would be ready to screen for the coronavirus from Monday.

South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria were already equipped with accurate testing systems for the coronavirus, according to the center which received $15 million to equip 15 countries that were most at risk, including countries that had direct flights to China.

January 7: Ethiopia to quarantine all Wuhan entrants

Ethiopia has announced that all passengers arriving from Wuhan will be quarantined as part of preventive measures against the coronavirus outbreak.

The Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) announced the decision which will affect all passengers arriving at Bole International Airport.

Ethiopia’s 11 suspected cases so far has seen eight declared negative. The remaining three are to be sent to South Africa for further examination, the institute further disclosed.

The Cameroonian embassy in Beijing has also released a statement to citizens of the Central African country praising the Chinese government and advising nationals on what steps to take. “Since it’s outbreak, the government and people of China have been waging and unprecedented and impressive combat against the epidemic.

“These efforts have been highly lauded by some of the most authoritative voices in the world in the field of health sciences,” the statement read in part. The only African known to have contracted the virus is a 21-year-old Cameroonian student in China.

January 6: Ghana report negative in two suspected cases

Authorities in Ghana have reported that negative outcome to the two suspected cases referred to the main hospital, the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital as at today, February 6.

The cases involved a Chinese and an Argentine who had been staying together in the capital Accra for some days now. They reported to Korle Bu on Wednesday evening with symptoms suspected to be similar to the virus, state-run Daily Graphic said in a report.

The Director of Medical Affairs at the Korle Bu, Dr Ali Samba, had earlier confirmed to a local radio station that blood samples of the two men have been taken to the Noguchi Medical Research Institute for testing.

Ghana joins a number of African countries that have recorded suspected cases, amongst others Ethiopia, Kenya, Botswana and Namibia.

Meanwhile Ethiopian Airlines says it will not suspend flights to and from China over the coronavirus outbreak. Its CEO in an interview with state-run FBC said a suspension of flights won’t mean the virus cannot reach Africa and also that per WHO advice, it was safe to continue operating taking into consideration relevant health screening procedures.

READ MORE: Despite social media outrage, Ethiopian defends China operations

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta is however urging Ethiopian to halt China flights over the virus. Speaking in the United States he said: “Our worry as a country is not that China cannot manage the disease. Our biggest worry is diseases coming into areas with weaker health systems like ours.”

Over a half dozen African fliers including Kenyan Airways have suspended flights to and from China till further notice. A number of global fliers have also gone down that road.

January 5: African quartet report negative cases, Equatorial Guinea donates to China, massive quarantine underway

Four African countries have reported negative outcome to tests conducted on suspected cases of the coronavirus. They are Kenya (seven cases overall), Ethiopia (three cases), Botswana (five cases) and Namibia with one case.

Over in Uganda, reports indicate that over 100 people have been quarantined after returning to the country from China. The group which includes 44 Chinese are being held at a facility over the quarantine period.

The number is up to over 500 in the case of Zimbabwe, the East African news portal reported. Health Minister Obadian Moyo is reported to have said people who recently returned from worse hit areas in China had been asked to self quarantine for two weeks and are restricted from public gatherings.

Information Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, added that surveillance will be ramped up at all entry points and that isolation and quarantine units have been opened in the capital Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

Malabo shows Beijing love with $2m donation

January 5: Kenya to repatriate citizens

Authorities in Kenya are prepared to evacuate their citizens from China, where the Coronvirus outbreak has claimed over 400 people.

The country’s health administrative secretary Dr Mercy Mwangangi told lawmakers there are plans to evacuate 85 students who are stranded in China’s Wuhan city, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in constant communication with the 85 Kenyan students,” Mwangangi told the MPs, adding that evacuations will be done once China lifts the lockdown in the city.

“We have identified two holding rooms at JKIA [Kenya’s main international airport] and set up isolation facility at the Kenyatta Hospital. Additional satellite isolation facilities have been earmarked for Nairobi county,” she added.

It is not clear how long the Wuhan lockdown will last, but several countries have been evacuating their citizens from the city. Egypt and Morocco are among African countries that have already evacuated their citizens.

February 4, 2020: Chinese embassy in Kenya issues ‘orders’

Kenya says there are three cases that are being dealt with as at Monday (February 3) – one in Nairobi and the others in Mombasa. The Health Ministry also stressed that four earlier cases had turned out negative.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Kenya has issued a directive for employers who are expecting the return of workers from the holiday break.

The statement whiles stressing the WHO position of a travel ban being needless said “…all Chinese companies in Kenya to quarantine their employees returning from China for 14 days no matter they have symptoms or not.

“To date there is no suspected case of novel coronavirus among Chinese nationals in Kenya,” it clarified stressing that China was undertaking equally stringent measures for nationals leaving the territory.

Meanwhile, while citizens of several African countries caught up in Wuhan, the virus epicenter, call for evacuation, Senegal says it does not have the capacity so to do.

President Macky Sall in an address confirmed that there are about a dozen Senegalese in Wuhan and that the government was in contact with them and providing them necessary assistance.

February 3, 2020: Cameroonian student infected after Wuhan visit

The first African known to have contracted the deadly coronavirus is a Cameroonian student in China. The university where he studies confirmed the situation in a statement. According to Yangtze University, the 21-year-old was being treated in hospital in southern Jingzhou city.

The statement said he had gotten the disease whiles visiting the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. Wuhan is the epicentre of the outbreak which has affected thousands within and outside China so far.

From Wuhan, he returned to his place of residence in Jingzhou, on 19 January, before a lockdown was imposed in Wuhan to prevent the spread of the plague. So far the death toll is over 200 people. The first death outside China was recorded over the weekend in the Philippines.

READ MORE Africa records its first overseas case of coronavirus

February 2 – 3, 2020: Kenya, Ethiopia cases, Air Tanzania suspends flights

As at February 3, three African countries reported that they were investigation suspected cases of coronavirus. Kenya, Ethiopia and Botswana reported three, four, five cases respectively.

Ethiopia last week recorded negative for three suspected cases, same with Kenya’s first suspected case. Botswana’s one case as at last week rose to five in a statement by the Health Ministry on Sunday.

The only other African country to declare a suspected case negative is Ivory Coast. Meanwhile countries continue to undertake efforts to secure their entry points from possible importation of the virus.

Air Tanzania has also joined the African fliers that have suspended scheduled flights to China over the outbreak. Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s decision to continue flights to and from China has received heavy backlash.

“Nigeria stands with the Government and people of China in this trying time, as they work hard to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. We wish them the very best, and have no doubt that this challenge will be fully overcome,” this was part of Nigerian president’s goodwill message to China.

February 1, 2020: Kenya, Botswana cases, Nigeria ready

Authorities in Kenya have reported a new suspected case of coronavirus after its first case turned negative earlier this week. The said patient arrived in Kenya on December 30 and is currently in isolation.

Over in Nigeria, the Heath Minister, Osagie Ehanire, at a meeting in Abuja over the coronavirus said the country had the capacity to detect, assess and respond in case the virus finds its way into the country.

“While the risk of importation exists, we can assure Nigerians of the nation’s capacity to detect, assess and respond to this and any other public health threats at the point of entry.”

He also said the federal government had voted funds to increase services of the ministry’s Port Health Services Unit. He disclosed that government was in touch with 16 Nigerians in Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic in China’s Hubei province.

January 31, 2020: African airlines suspend flights to China

Kenya’s national carrier on Friday suspended all flights to and from China, as a precautionary measure against the spread of coronavirus.

Kenya Airways says it is working with the country’s health and foreign ministries to determine the length of the suspension.

RwandAir, Air Madagascar, Air Mauritus and Royal Air Maroc have also suspended flights to mainland China, where the coronavirus has killed over 200 people. These airlines said the suspensions are indefinite and offered re-funds or re-routes to passengers who had booked flights to China.

On the other hand, Africa’s largest aviation operator, Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday said it would continue to operate all its flights to China, adding that it was working with relevant authorities to “protect its passengers and crew” from the virus.

READ MORE: Ethiopian undertaking all China flights, Nigeria issues advisory

January 30, 2020: Ethiopia suspected cases test negative

Ethiopia’s health authorities on Thursday said the four citizens who had been isolated on suspicions of having contracted the coronavirus tested negative.

The ministry said the blood samples of the four were sent to a laboratory in South Africa for further investigation on Tuesday, and still came back negative.

There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus on the African continent. Earlier, the suspected case in Ivory Coast also tested negative.

January 30, 2020: Ethiopian Airlines mantains flights

Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday issued a statement refuting media reports that it had it had joined a growing list of global carriers suspending flights to China.

“We are operating our regular flights to all of our 5 gateways in China, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong with the usual supply and demand adjustment that we always make during the Chinese New Year Holidays,” the statement read in part.

Ivory Coast suspected case tests negative

Ivory Coast’s health ministry on Wednesday said the suspected case of coronavirus in the country had tested negative.

A student who had travelled from Beijing to Abidjan over the weekend had shown flu-like symptoms, ‘coughing, sneezing and experienced difficulty breathing’.

In a statement, the Ivorian health ministry said that tests by research institutes in Ivory Coast and France had come back negative for the virus.

According to the ministry, the 34-year-old student who was quarantined while tests were carried out is being treated for her symptoms and is recovering well.

If the results had been positive, this would have been the first confirmed case in Africa.

January 28,2020: Mozambique suspends visas

Mozambique’s cabinet on Tuesday decided to temporarily suspend the issuance of visas on arrival for travelers from China, as one of the measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, it is not yet clear whether the government will evacuate its students studying in China, who have requested to be taken from the country until the virus outbreak is controlled.

Kenya’s ambassador to China Sarah Serem on Wednesday said the government of the East African nation would not be evacuating its citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

‘’“The option for evacuation should not be an immediate concern for now,“Serem, who is back in Kenya said, adding that the Chinese were in a better position to deal with the virus.

January 28,2020: Ethiopia confirms four possible cases

Ethiopia’s state-affiliated FANA broadcasting corporate, FBC, reported that four Ethiopians suspected of being infected by coronavirus has been placed in isolation, said the Ministry of Health.

“The students arrived in Ethiopia from a university in Wuhan, Chain’s worst-affected city by the disease,” the report added.

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January 28,2020: Kenya rushes suspected case to hospital

Kenya Airways on Tuesday confirmed that one of its passengers who had travelled from the Chinese city of Wuhan to Nairobi had presented coronavirus-like symptoms and was rushed to hospital on arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

‘‘Kenya Airways confirms that a passenger who travelled on our flight KQ886 from Guangzhou to Nairobi on 28 January 2020 has, as a precautionary measure, been quarantined at the Kenyatta National Hospital,” KQ said in a statement.

The county’s health ministry said it was investigating the suspected case at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) isolation ward.

‘‘He was brought by the airport surveillance ambulance and is currently going through tests to rule out or confirm if he indeed has the disease,’‘ KNH Communications manager Hezekiel Gikambi told a local newspaper.

The Daily Nation added that KQ’s crew had isolated the passenger during the flight and provided him with a face mask, as per ICAO protocols.

January 27,2020: Ivory Coast tests suspect

Ivory Coast on Monday became the first African country to test a suspected Coronavirus case, when a female student arrived at an airport in the capital with suspicious symptoms.*

‘‘The 34-year-old student traveled from Beijing to the Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport in Abidjan on Saturday and was coughing, sneezing and experienced difficulty breathing,’‘ Ivory Coast’s Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene said in statement.

This effectively becomes the first case of testing for the virus on the African continent, even as Chinese authorities announced on Tuesday that its death toll had surpassed 100 from over 4,000 cases reported.

Authorities in Ivory Coast moved the student to a safe location where she is currently being monitored. The health says it is highly likely a case of pneumonia and not coronavirus, but the final diagnosis will be made after the analysis of the results of the test.

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