NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 24 – Kenya announced Wednesday that its athletes were banned from competing in Tanzania’s top marathon race this Saturday over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Athletics Kenya said in a statement it would not be permitting its runners to participate in the Kilimanjaro Marathon at the foothills of Africa’s highest mountain “due to the global outbreak and spread of Covid-19”.
But officials voiced more specific concerns about the rampant spread of the disease in Tanzania, where the government has been criticised for downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic and refusing to take tough measures against it.
“We have to protect our athletes,” said a senior official at Athletics Kenya, who requested anonymity because they were not permitted to speak to the press. “If we allow them to compete in the Tanzania race, and they contract the virus, it will be easy to transmit it to other Kenyan runners back home.”
Kenyan runners dominated the last three editions of the Kilimanjaro fixture, taking a clean sweep of the men’s and women’s events in the internationally-sanctioned race which takes place in the northern town of Moshi near the border with Kenya.
Tanzania last gave case figures for coronavirus infections in April 2020, reporting 509 infections.
But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has struck both members of the public and government officials.
Last week President John Magufuli — who has insisted the disease can be defeated with prayer — conceded it was still circulating, revealing some of his aides and family members had contracted Covid-19 but recovered.
The head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week appealed to Tanzania to take “robust action” against the disease, after several travellers from the country tested positive.
On Monday the United States issued a “do not travel” warning to Tanzania, due to the spread of the virus.