Kenya has banned its athletes from taking part in this Saturday’s (February 27) Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania because of growing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the host country.
Athletics Kenya announced it would not permit its runners to participate in the event 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 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," a senior official at Athletics Kenya told The Nation.
"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."
Last week Tanzania’s 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 had recovered.
World Health Organization director general 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 (February 22) the United States issued a "do not travel" warning to Tanzania, due to the spread of the virus.
Kenyan male and female runners have enjoyed a clean sweep in the the last three editions of the Kilimanjaro 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, when it reported 509 cases.