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Kenya Imposes Restrictions on Nairobi Region as Surge Builds

Kenya imposed stringent new restrictions in the capital, Nairobi, and in four other counties, fighting a deadly third wave of Covid-19 infections that has placed its fragile health system under devastating pressure.

In a televised address on Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that a tenfold increase in infection rates since January, coupled with a 52 percent increase in hospital admissions this month, called for “drastic measures.”

“Kenya is now squarely in the grip of a third wave of this pandemic,” he said.

Several variants have been identified in Kenya, but some were found among travelers, and there is little data to suggest how prevalent they may be or what role they might be playing in the East African nation’s surge. They include B.1.1.7, the more transmissible and possible more lethal variant first identified in Britain; B.1.351, a variant first found in South Africa that may bypass the protection afforded by current vaccines; and A.23.1, a variant that is now dominant in Kenya’s neighbor Uganda and nearby Rwanda.

As of midnight, Mr. Kenyatta said, all gatherings are banned in Nairobi and four adjoining counties, which make up a single infection zone. Travel is prohibited in and out of the restricted area, where bars, restaurants and places of worship will close, and a nightly 10 p.m. curfew moves to 8 p.m. However, Nairobi’s international airport will remain open.

In the rest of Kenya, sporting activities are suspended, and schools and universities will close until further notice.

The curbs came a week before the Easter holiday when many Kenyans pile into crowded buses to return to their family homes in rural areas.

A vaccination program that started in March raised hopes for an end of the pandemic, which has devastated the country’s tourism-dependent economy. One small bright spot in the tourism downturn has been an influx of wealthy Europeans hoping to ride out the pandemic in upmarket resorts along Kenya’s coast.

But the soaring rate of infections and deaths has forced the country into a painful new lockdown, Mr. Kenyatta said. As of Thursday, Kenya reported a total of 126,170 cases and 2,092 deaths. The positive test rate hit 22 percent this week, compared with 2 percent in January, he said.

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Tanzanian President’s Absence Fuels Speculation About His Health

NAIROBI, Kenya — As unrecorded numbers of Tanzanians succumbed to the coronavirus, the country’s president consistently downplayed the pandemic, dismissing protective measures, scoffing at vaccines and saying God had helped to eliminate the virus.

Now, President John Magufuli’s unusually lengthy absence from public view is fueling speculation that he himself is critically ill with Covid-19 and is being treated outside the country.

The rumors started swirling this week after Tanzania’s leading opposition figure, Tundu Lissu, said Mr. Magufuli was infected with the virus and was being treated in a hospital in neighboring Kenya. In a text message, Mr. Lissu said he had it “from fairly authoritative sources” that the president was flown to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on Monday night and checked into Nairobi Hospital, one of the largest private facilities in that country.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lissu demanded that authorities disclose the whereabouts of the president, who has not appeared in public for almost two weeks. On Wednesday, he said that Mr. Magufuli was transferred to a hospital in India to “avoid social media embarrassment” in case “the worst happened” in Kenya.

did not attend a virtual summit for the leaders of the East African regional bloc on Feb. 27 and was represented by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

“The most powerful man in Tanzania is now being sneaked about like an outlaw,” Mr. Lissu said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.

“His COVID denialism in tatters, his prayer-over-science folly has turned into a deadly boomerang,” he said in another post on Thursday.

Mr. Lissu’s comments came after the Tanzanian human rights organization Fichua Tanzania said Mr. Magufuli had left the country to receive treatment in Kenya.

As speculation concerning his whereabouts and illness remained rife on social media, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper also reported that an “African leader” had been admitted to Nairobi Hospital and cited diplomatic sources who said the leader was “on a ventilator.”

threatened to punish those circulating conjectures about his health.

“The head of the state is not a television anchor who had a program but didn’t show up,” Mwigulu Nchemba, minister for legal and constitutional affairs, said in a Twitter post. “The head of state is not the leader of jogging clubs who should be in the neighborhood every day.”

Minister of Information Innocent Bashungwa warned the public and the media that using “rumors” as official information violated the country’s media laws.

From the beginning of the pandemic a year ago, Mr. Magufuli, 61, railed against masks and social distancing measures, advocated unproven remedies as cures and said the country had “absolutely finished” the virus through prayer. Known popularly as “The Bulldozer,” Mr. Magufuli also questioned the efficacy of vaccines, arguing that if those produced by “the white man” were effective, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria would have been eliminated.

Under Mr. Magufuli’s leadership, which began with his election in 2015, Tanzania, once a model of stability in the region, has slid toward autocracy, with the authorities cracking down on the press, opposition figures and rights groups. Mr. Magufuli won a second five-year term last October, in an election marred by accusations of widespread fraud and irregularities.

Mr. Lissu, who was the main opposition candidate against Mr. Magufuli, left the country for exile in Belgium, where he remains.

Since last April, Tanzania has not shared data on the coronavirus with the World Health Organization and has reported only 509 cases and 21 deaths from Covid-19. This lack of transparency has been widely condemned, including by the director general of the W.H.O., Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

warned of a “significant increase” in Covid-19 cases. The Roman Catholic Church has also called on the government to admit the truth of the virus and has urged its congregants to avoid large gatherings.

Tanzanian leaders like Seif Sharif Hamad, the first vice president of Tanzania’s semiautonomous island of Zanzibar, have died after contracting the coronavirus. Soon after news spread that Mr. Hamad had succumbed to the virus last month, the minister of finance, Philip Mpango, appeared at a news conference in Tanzania’s capital, Dodoma, to deny rumors that he too had died. Mr. Mpango, though, was not particularly reassuring when, flanked by unmasked doctors, he began wheezing heavily and coughing fitfully.

Facing pressure, Mr. Magufuli finally changed course in late February and asked people to wear masks and heed the advice of experts.

But for Mr. Lissu, it was too little too late.

“It’s a sad comment on his stewardship of our country that it’s come to this,” Mr. Lissu said in a post on Twitter about Mr. Magufuli’s infection, which he said is evidence “that prayers, steam inhalations and other unproven herbal concoctions he’s championed are no protection against coronavirus!”

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