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Kenyan official charged with wilfully spreading coronavirus

MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A Kenyan court charged a senior regional government official on Thursday with wilfully spreading the novel coronavirus by going out in public without taking precautions, an accusation he denied.

Kenya, which has 179 confirmed cases and six deaths from the coronavirus, has banned all public gatherings and limited the number of mourners at funerals.

The Deputy Governor of the coastal region of Kilifi County, Gideon Saburi, was arrested on Friday after completing a 14-day government-enforced quarantine after the health ministry said he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Mombasa Senior Magistrate’s court accused him of committing the crime between March 6 and 22, but gave no details.

“Gideon Saburi ... within Kilifi County ... while suffering from an infectious disease, namely COVID-19, wilfully and unlawfully, without taking any precaution, exposed yourself to the public,” the charge sheet read in court said.

Saburi denied the charge and was remanded until April 15 when his application for bail will be heard.

Saburi’s lawyer said he was being treated unfairly because of comments made by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenyatta said on Thursday Saburi had disregarded the rules and travelled to Mombasa and Kilifi after landing in Nairobi from Germany.

“You don’t have the right to go infecting other people with this virus just because you are a leader,” Kenyatta said in an interview on Tuesday with Kikuyu radio stations.

“It is my wish, I very much request the court jail him for 10 years because of the people he has infected.”

Last month, a Kenyan legislator who turned up in parliament was forced out by cries of “quarantine! quarantine!” after another lawmaker pointed out he’d recently arrived from London.

South Africa put its communications minister on “special leave” for two months, one of which will be unpaid, on Wednesday for breaking the rules of a countrywide lockdown and having lunch with a former official.

Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi and Alexander Winning in Johnnesburg; Writing by George Obulutsa; editing by Nick Macfie