Kenyan Priest Tests Positive for COVID-19 after Defying Self-Quarantine Directive

Health officials in Siaya County Monday launched a search for an unknown number of people who interacted with the priest who recently returned from Rome and had since tested positive for coronavirus.

A Kenyan Catholic priest has tested positive for COVID-19 days after returning to his country from Italy, the country most hit by the deadly virus, a confirmation that has raised concerns that the cleric might have infected multiple people in the East African country since he defied the government’s 14-day self-quarantine directive.

Fr. Richard Oduor was taken to hospital Friday, March 20 “after some fever and vomiting” and the report of his having tested positive for the new coronavirus make public on Sunday, March 22, two priests who hosted him have stated in a collective message.

He had landed back at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) March 12 from Rome and having “passed through all the tests for COVID-19 at JKIA” proceeded to join Fr. Bosco Kamau and Fr. Anthony-Mario Egbunonu, both members of Saint Patrick’s Society (SPS) ministering at the Holy Family Catholic Parish, Utawala of the Archdiocese of Nairobi, the duo have disclosed in their Monday, March 23 statement seen by ACI Africa.

Defying the Kenya government’s directive for all travelers arriving in the country to observe a two-week self-isolation, Fr. Richard who is currently in isolation at Mbagathi Hospital, the Nairobi-based government facility for COVID-19 patients, had multiple direct contacts with different people.

“After spending the night in the Parish house, he traveled on Friday the 13th of March to attend a funeral at Ugunja in Siaya County,” the two priests who hosted Fr. Richard have recounted in their Monday, March 23 message, recalling the 430 kilometer-journey he made by public means the very day the government of Kenya announced the first case of COVID-19.

The burial, which took place in Kinda village of St. Joseph’s Ugunja Parish in Kenya’s Kisumu Archdiocese, was of the mother to a Nun of the religious congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Anna (FSSA). 

Unlike reports in local media in Kenya that Fr. Richard presided over the funeral Mass and that he visited the FSSA convent at Lwak, ACI Africa has gathered that he concelebrated at the Mass and did not visit the convent. 

Considering the general mood in the country after the first case of COVID-19 in Kenya was confirmed, the two SPS priests have recalled asking “Fr. Richard to stay at his home place in Kisumu for 14 days and self-quarantine but he insisted he wanted to come back” to Nairobi.

“On his arrival on Monday the 16th, we immediately took him to a room at the back of the parish compound (which was formerly a store) and isolated him there,” Fr. Bosco and Fr. Anthony-Mario have stated, adding that they did not permit Fr. Richard to celebrate Mass in public at the parish.

“Unfortunately, even though we made sure that Fr. Richard was in isolation, we learned that during his period of isolation/quarantine, he had (on his own volition) visited some friends,” the priests have further disclosed, raising fears that Fr. Richard might have spread the virus in Kenya where the government has reported 16 cases of COVID-19.

With the help of Fr. Richard, a team of health personnel in Kenya is tracing the various people he might have interacted with in recent days.

"The health officers have been sent to all those areas where it's believed that the priest visited to curb a further spread," Kenya’s Siaya county commissioner, Michael Ole Tialal has been quoted as saying.

Fr. Bosco and Fr. Anthony-Mario have offered to get themselves tested for the virus on Tuesday, March 24 even though they say they “had taken all precautions and avoided contact with him throughout the week.”

They have also decided to quarantine themselves for the next 14 days.

“Please let us pray for each other as we continue to take the necessary precautions and protect ourselves and our loved ones,” the two religious clerics have implored in their collective message.

According to Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Mutahi Kagwe, 626 people who were in contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been traced.

Among the raft of measures the government has taken include the suspension of international flights from Wednesday, March 25, stopping public gatherings including religious ones, and passengers arriving in the country before Wednesday undergoing a “mandatory quarantine at their own expense in selected hotels or at government approved facilities,” among other measures.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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