Uhuru urges Ethiopian carrier to halt China flights over virus

Thursday February 06 2020

An Ethiopian Airlines aircraft on flight. President Uhuru Kenyatta has pleaded with the Ethiopian Airlines to consider halting direct flights to China to help stop a possible spread of the coronavirus. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

President Uhuru Kenyatta has pleaded with the Ethiopian Airlines to consider halting direct flights to China to help stop a possible spread of the coronavirus that has spread in several other Asian countries, Europe and the United States.

The President said the spread of the virus portends danger to Africa but Kenya in particular because of its weak health management systems.

“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,” President Kenyatta said.


He was addressing an American think-tank specialising in transAtlantic alliance, The Atlantic Council in Washington, DC on Wednesday.

The President was reacting to an announcement by the airline that it will continue flying to China, serving its five destinations of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong with the usual demand and supply adjustment despite the risk brought about by the virus.


“We are working together with relevant Chinese and Ethiopian authorities to protect our passengers from the coronavirus,” Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement.


Kenya Airways has already suspended its flights to Guangzhou over the coronavirus epidemic after consultations with the government through the ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs.

“We have temporarily suspended flights to and from Guangzhou effective January 31 until further notice. We, however, clarify that our service to Bangkok, Thailand, remains operational,” the airline said last week.

Ethiopia and Kenya are the two countries in Africa that have come nearest to reporting the first case of the virus.

So far four people have been quarantined in Addis Ababa while one case that was reported in Nairobi returned a negative finding after tests were done.

In his address in Washington, President Kenyatta reminded the Ethiopian authorities that his plea was not about politics and international relations but was borne out of the strong desire to protect the Kenyan people from the risk of infection.


He said his administration has put in place everything to ensure the control of the disease, which includes suspending flights to China.

“We are doing everything to keep the virus away. It has nothing to do with our relationship with any country, it’s about protecting our people from the risk of infection,” he said.

In his speech, the President drummed up support for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) which he described as a home-grown solution for a divisive political culture whose goals are to pre-empt escalation of no-holds barred political competition, strengthen inclusivity and deliver bold reforms.

Asked by former US ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy what he thought would be a good political outcome in the BBI, the President demurred, arguing that giving what he thought is good could be counter-productive to the process.

“What I want is a process acceptable to the majority, one that is fair, transparent and inclusive. We shall come together and have a fair process that will ensure that we achieve that,” he said.