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Kenya-US Trade Talks Suspended over Virus Fears among Top Officials

The Kenya-US Trade deal talks have been put on hold over concerns that a number of members from Kenya’s negotiating team have been exposed to the Corona Virus, a US based news organization has reported.

According to The Politico, a number of Kenyan negotiators were tested on Tuesday after getting exposed to the virus at an office where technical teams had gathered. The organization attributed its report to at least three people close to the talks.

The test results are expected within a few days , with the bilateral talks set to resume as soon as possible.

Talking to The Politico, a Kenyan source close to the talks said that the potential spread of the virus would be more disruptive compared to the precautionary measure of suspending the talks.

The Trump Administration has said it is gearing up for a potential agreement with Kenya that could open up the way to similar deals with other African countries.

Trade Cabinet Secretary said that the Bilateral talks were important as Kenya seeks to secure trade and investment relations ahead of the lapse of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) in 2025, which eliminates import tariffs on goods from eligible African Nations.

The members of the US negotiating team are working remotely even through the talks. The Kenyan team said it is also developing a plan to allow its negotiators to work from home.

The reports come amid reports that top government officials in Kenya have tested positive for the Virus. Three Cabinet Secretaries are reported to have tested positive although City hospitals remain mum on the issue.

Government Spokesperson Cyrus Oguna on Friday revealed that he had tested positive while Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i denied reports on social media that he had contracted the virus.

Oguna, who had earlier refuted claims of testing positive for Covid-19, tweeted, “I am now receiving treatment at an isolation and treatment facility. Contact tracing is ongoing and my family is fine. I urge all Kenyans to take this disease seriously and tale all the necessary precautions to avoid getting infected.”

Matiang’i on the other hand, said his family had been distressed by the rumours. He criticized those manufacturing rumours to humiliate public service officials.

“I feel for my family. My innocent wife and children — private citizens living their own lives — but they have to endure these kind of rumours. They have to pay a heavy price because one of them is in public service.”

The CS, who also heads the National Emergency Response Committee on Covid-19, was rumoured to have been taken ill with reports saying that he was at the Intensive Care Unit in a leading private hospital.

Two other ministers are also rumoured to be sick from Covid-19.

“There is nothing wrong with a Cabinet Secretary getting sick. We get sick because we are human beings,” Matiang’i said, revealing that he had gone for tests three times in the past three months.

“I cannot pretend that I can’t get the infection. There is nothing strange with CSs getting sick but I find this funny because the perception appears to be that once we get into public office we can’t get sick. It is not true.”

He said the rumours were being spread by individuals who were unhappy with his work.

“These are distractions. They want me to sit there and sulk so that I don’t achieve the objectives given to me by the President. Focus is key and they know I will fail once I get distracted.”

Matiang’i said he had filed a report and was working with the Police to get to the root of the rumours.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a threat to government operations, with public officials, some holding critical positions, testing positive for Covid-19 within the past two weeks.

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Written by Vanessa Murrey

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