Kenya-UAE flight bans show need for global digital cooperation on Covid

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Thursday, 13 January 2022 10:34

An Emirates aircraft at Dubai International Airport. Adam Scheck/AP/SIPA

The ban by the United Arab Emirates on passenger flights from Kenya shows the need for international digital co-operation on Covid-19 vaccination status, Kefa Nyakundi, CEO of Africa Risk Management Advisors in Nairobi, tells The Africa Report.

The UAE has banned arrivals from Kenya after claims of fake negative test certificates. Kenyans were presenting negative test results yet still testing positive on arrival in the UAE.  Nairobi on Monday responded with a seven-day ban on all inbound and transit passenger flights from the UAE, though cargo is unaffected.

Covid-19 is an “issue of national security” and people are using “all means necessary” to get a compliance document, Nyakundi says. The problem, he says, is that anti-vaxxers still need to travel. “I am still struggling to understand why the entire globe does not have a single portal for tracking vaccinations.”

Countries including Kenya have national portals which record the vaccination status of the population. In a digital world, there is no reason why such data can’t be aggregated at the global level, for example by the World Health Organization, Nyakundi says. “Digital verification will eliminate a significant number of cheats and make it impossible for people to buy certificates.”

That would, he says, still leave the problem of people paying to get their names into the database. The process of updating the country portals should be tightened and hefty penalties levied on lax countries, Nyakundi says. Penalties such as bans on flights can come in at that stage, he says.

  • But before such steps are reasonable, a “more concerted effort in data exchange” is required.
  • Such coordination has been neglected as each country follows its own national Covid strategy, he adds.

The round of bans has hurt investment in Kenya and delayed any recovery for its tourism industry. The impact of the bans extends even further, Nyakundi says.

  • “Banning flights does not just affect Kenyans, it disrupts travel for people from different jurisdictions who connect through Nairobi,” he argues.
  • “Why punish people who have complied with the rules?”

Local Corruption

The UAE has also banned flights from Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Morocco. Meanwhile, the US has downgraded Kenya to level three travel advisory, meaning American citizens should avoid all non-essential travel.

Local solutions will need to be part of the response. The problem of fake tests in Kenya is “intrinsic and deep-rooted in the system”, said a financial analyst in Nairobi who asked not to be named.  The issue “speaks to the level of corruption that exists” in Kenya, the analyst said.

Still, the analyst said, it’s realistic to reduce the problem to a tolerable level. One way forward would be to restrict testing to specific healthcare facilities approved by the ministry of health.

  • Each certificate could be then approved by a qualified healthcare practitioner with QR codes used to ensure credibility, the person said.
  • Airlines and foreign countries should only accept Covid certificates from trusted facilities, and anyone who issues fake certificates should have their licenses revoked, the person added.

Bottom Line

Lack of international cooperation makes it harder to persuade some travellers of the benefits of being vaccinated.

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