Priest arrested in Kenya for spreading coronavirus

shutterstock 793815406 Catholic Mass in a local church in Kenya. | Adriana Mahdalova/Shutterstock

A Catholic priest is one of two people in Kenya to be charged with "negligently spreading an infectious disease" after authorities allege he did not comply with quarantine regulations after he traveled to the country from Italy. 

Fr. Richard Onyango Oduor denied the allegations on Thursday, April 16, and is currently free after he posted bail. He will appear in court on May 2, after he spends another 14 days in quarantine. 

According to Kenyan media, Fr. Oduor is based in Rome and flew to the country to preside at a relative's burial service. At that burial service, he distributed the Eucharist, interacting with several people. According to local media reports, as many as 60 people who came into contact with Fr. Oduor reported to the hospital, but it is unclear how many of them were eventually diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Fr. Oduor eventually tested positive for the virus, was hospitalized for a period of two weeks, and has since recovered. He was arrested on April 9, immediately after he was released from the hospital. 

Oduor reportedly traveled throughout Kenya from March 11 through 20, and was unaware that he had been infected with the coronavirus. During this period. Oduor took busses and a plane, and celebrated several Masses. 

Kenyan officials were able to locate and quarantine more than 130 people who had come into contact with Oduor before he was diagnosed with the coronavirus. This number includes priests at a parish in Nairobi where Oduor stayed before traveling to his hometown for the burial.

Archbishop Anthony Muheria, who leads the Archdiocese of Nyeri and is the apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Kitui, declined to comment about the case to Reuters, and said it was up to civil authorities to handle Oduor's case. 

Kenya has banned public gatherings, reduced the number of people who are permitted to attend a funeral, instituted a curfew, and increased restrictions on who can travel to areas that have the highest number of cases.

In Kenya, 234 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 11 have died. 

Oduor was arrested on the same day Gideon Saburi, the deputy governor of Kilifi, a county in Kenya, was charged with spreading coronavirus. Saburi is alleged to have appeared in public while suffering from the virus between March 6 and March 22. He has also pleaded not guilty and was released on April 16 after posting bail.

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