Kenya‘s coronavirus infection rate has exceeded the World Health Organization (WHO) high risk limit of five percent for the first time since the nationwide curfew was lifted on October 20.
Health ministry data shows the positivity rate – the percentage of tests that come back positive – rose to 6.5 percent on Monday, from five percent on Sunday when the infectious Omicron variant emerged.
The WHO classifies a country as high risk if the positivity rate rises above five percent and advises countries to consider restraint measures such as bans if it stays above the limit for at least 14 days.
Monday marked the first time since September 30 that more than five percent of tests were positive, drawing attention to infection rates as Kenya headed for the holidays. The positivity rate had dropped sharply from 14.5 percent on August 15.
President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the curfew and allowed bars and other entertainment venues to resume normal personal service on October 20, saying Kenya had met most of the indicators downgrading the restrictions.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said last week that the National Emergency Response Committee (NERC) held an emergency meeting to discuss and evaluate new steps to contain the new variant of Omicron.
Kenya is on high alert after Uganda confirmed the first cases of Omicron and joined nearly a dozen countries in Africa where the new strain was discovered.
South Africa has seen an increase in infections since the new variant was first detected in November.
Although Omicron is more transmissible than previous strains, including Delta, the risk of serious illness and death is lower, one study found.
The rise in positivity rates and the advent of the new variant put Kenya’s fight against the disease in the spotlight as the country lags behind in its vaccination campaign.
Kenya plans to vaccinate at least 10 million people by Christmas, but so far 3.26 million adults have been fully vaccinated, which is 12 percent of the population. About 4.93 million have been partially vaccinated.
WHO also recommends governments step up containment measures as hospital admissions and intensive care admissions increase over two weeks and Covid-19 deaths decrease over three weeks.
Hospital admissions for Covid-19 have decreased from 1,021 admissions on September 30 to 175 yesterday.
Health ministry data shows 5,349 people have died from complications related to the coronavirus to date.
The decline in hospital admissions has relieved the burden on hospitals that had run out of beds in the past few months, particularly the intensive care units.
Kenya’s economy, like others, was hit by the pandemic as restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus reduced revenues and stifled growth.
Economic output contracted last year for the first time in nearly three decades, hampered by the impact of the coronavirus crisis on key sectors like tourism.
Growth fell from 5.0 percent in 2019 to minus 0.3 percent last year.
The recovery has begun, but there were fears that a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines and new waves of infection could slow the pace.
The Central Bank of Kenya expects economic growth of 6.1 percent this year and 5.6 percent in 2022.