Kenya has reached an all-time high COVID-19 infection rate, with positive results in nearly a third of tests. Scientists believe the surge is fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus. But Kenya is also seeing a low rate of hospitalizations and deaths.
Kenya is battling a wave of COVID-19 infections greater than any since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.
The positive test rate has jumped from 6.5 percent to almost 30 percent in the past week.
The World Health Organization labels a country high risk if its positivity rate is more than 5 percent and advises affected countries to consider restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.
However, the head of research group Amref Health Africa International, Githinji Gitahi, says that many people visiting hospitals seeking coronavirus treatment do not need to be admitted.
“We have a lot of outpatient visits in the clinics, in the hospitals but largely outpatient, outpatient numbers have almost doubled but not hospitalization," Gitahi said. "We are not seeing many hospitalizations, oxygen requirement, ICU-HDU as should have been expected, which indicates that maybe its earlier immunity in the bodies of those who are getting infected, vaccination plus early infection or just that the particular variant is mild and not causing severe disease.”
Some countries have reintroduced lockdowns to fight the spread of the omicron variant. But the East African nation has been reluctant to do so.
Dr. David Sang, an epidemiologist, says people have shown some laxity when following health protocols like wearing masks and frequently washing hands.
“I may not attribute it to the new strain. I think it's more likely to be because people became complacent because for a longtime the level of transmission was very low," Sang said. "They perceived that the disease was declining and their guard was not as important as before.”
In Kenya, wearing a face mask is mandatory, but these days the mandate is rarely followed or enforced.
Gitahi says the country will continue to have waves of COVID-19 until more of the population gets vaccinated.
“As usual, the wave will burn out and we normally see the wave taking about three-four weeks and then they get onto the decline," Gitahi said. "This one is rising very rapidly which could also mean that it could also decline rapidly maybe two-three weeks. So, we expect that to happen but people need to get vaccinated so that we don’t end up with a surge in hospitalization in case it spreads out in areas of low vaccination.”
Out of the estimated 54 million people in Kenya, about 9 million have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and only 3.6 million are fully vaccinated.