Coronavirus: Panic as Kenya Airways plane lands in Sierra Leone

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There was confusion at Sierra Leone’s Lungi International Airport on Wednesday after a Kenya Airways (KQ) flight carrying a suspected coronavirus case landed.

The flight to Freetown, whose first leg had seen it first land in another country, had four Japanese passengers on board, one of whom was reported to be displaying symptoms of the viral infection.

News of the suspected case first emanated from Liberia where the plane had transited en route to Sierra Leone.

A statement from the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority said a KQ station manager had alerted authorities of the suspected virus case when the plane landed in Liberia.

Sources said the plane spent some time in the air after its landing was delayed to allow Sierra Leonean authorities prepare for appropriate action.

However, when it eventually landed, some of the passengers refused to be quarantined.

A Ministry of Health official told the Nation that the Japanese passengers did not disembark and were flown back to an unknown destination.

Harold Thomas, Communication Lead at the Directorate of Health Security, Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), said a number of other non-Sierra Leonean passengers from neighbouring countries also opted to return to their point of origin after they refused to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

“The rest of the passengers, all of whom are Sierra Leoneans, have been taken to a quarantine facility and are currently being monitored,” he added.

The ministry said authorities denied the Japanese entry on grounds of public health safety.

It wasn’t immediately clear where the Japanese nationals would be returned but, as is tradition, the passengers are returned to their last boarding site.

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NO VIRUS CASES

KQ is one of about half a dozen airlines that currently operate flights to the West African country after two major airlines, Brussels Airlines and Air Maroc, announced they were halting operations until the pandemic is contained.

Sierra Leone has not confirmed any coronavirus cases.

Despite this, the country has intensified measures to keep the new coronavirus (Covid-19) at bay, since all its close neighbours — Guinea, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire — have recorded cases.

President Julius Maada Bio, in a televised address on Wednesday evening, announced further anti-coronavirus measures to include deployment of the military to the airport and all other border entry points to take charge of screening.

Bio called for a review of everyday life to include practising social distancing in a country used to large social gatherings.

He also urged citizens to report any symptoms of the viral disease to health officials through a dedicated toll number — 117.

Bio, however, ruled out shutting down the country, but stressed that the government would take every measure necessary to prevent entry of the virus, including enforcing guidelines announced by the Ministry of Health last week.

“It is no longer a question of whether the coronavirus will come to Sierra Leone, it is a question of when,” he said, adding: “We cannot afford to wait for a positive case.”

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