Kenya announced Wednesday that its athletes are banned from competing in Tanzania’s top marathon race this Saturday over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, CapitalFM of Kenya is reporting.
Athletics Kenya (AK) 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 are not permitted to speak to the press. “If we allow our runners to compete in the Tanzania race and they contract the virus, it will be easy to transmit it to other Kenyans back home.”
The event usually hosts more than 9,000 competitors from across the world and Kenyan runners dominated the last three Kilimanjaro races, making a clean sweep of the men’s and women’s events in the internationally sanctioned race which takes place near the border with Kenya.
Organisers in Tanzania have set up health measures for the race.
“We would like to appeal to runners to please take the necessary precautions in terms of socially distancing norms and to wear the approved personal protective equipment and masks when starting, participating and finishing in their respective events,” the marathon said in a statement.
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 admitted it was circulating, revealing some of his aides and family members had contracted the illness 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 US issued a “do not travel” notice to Tanzania, due to the spread of the virus.