top of page

Cape Town, South Africa
(Click to return to Musings)

  • Ellen Bassett


After weeks of vacillation I bought a ticket to Kenya to try to initiate some work on climate change planning in urban Kenya. Since I’ve arrived the coronavirus, or Covid19, which was the cause of my vacillation, has arrived in the USA but not, it appears, in Kenya. That is super interesting as it was forecast that countries with poor public health systems would be slammed, unlike those in the West. (There is a theory that temperature may be part of the lack of African outbreaks. I just got back from Mombasa where it was 33C and very humid. Pretty miserable. However, if my colleague in Environmental Sciences, Deborah Lawrence, is right the worst is yet to come.)

But we have seen that both European and American public health systems, once deemed as strong, have been shown to be challenged, if not borderline incompetent. (The NYT has a fascinating article on how centralized approval processes—instituted to protect human subjects—really slowed addressing the virus in Washington State.

I’m finding the entire reaction to this virus fascinating to watch from this vantage point. Africa has had its share of scary viruses—with perhaps the most terrifying being Ebola. Ebola first reared its head in Kenya in 1989 and was traced to a hot spot around Mt. Elgon. This spawned a New Yorker article, a book, and a movie called The Hot Zone. (Just learned there was also a mini-series that wasn’t particularly well-received.) A former colleague of mine said he promised himself never to go to Mt. Elgon, which, of course, he later did. Ebola has then made periodic appearances, including in western Uganda in Fort Portal where I used to live but most terrifyingly in the informal settlements of Monrovia. Now that virus is deadly—but you need to have direct contact with an infected person and contact with blood. Covid19 is air-borne and, thus, perhaps more terrifying to us as it is unclear who has had exposure. Was that a dry cough from the passenger in Seat 21A today or did they just have a tickle in their throat?

Screening Tourists at Kenya's JKIA.


This morning I was bombarded by emails letting me know that the Trump administration announced a ban on all flights from Europe. The UK—I have a British Airways ticket—is currently exempted, but that, of course, could change easily, particularly if Fox News advises the President otherwise. (How not to make public policy, dear planners.) I fly back on Sunday and changing it to move my reservation forward in time is not possible given how many travelers are trying to rebook from other European carriers.

Are we handling this well? I admit I’m perhaps affected by all my time in Africa, but right now I’m in agreement with the concerns of the editorial board of the Washington Post published today. Read it here:

bottom of page