Africa Moyo Deputy News Editor
The removal of Zimbabwe, along with 10 other African countries from the United Kingdom red list, has excited local tourism players who believe they can now salvage some visitors from Europe this festive season, but only if Zimbabwe tweaks its quarantine regulations to allow those with a vaccination card and a negative PCR test.
Realising that travel restrictions no longer served a purpose since the Omicron variant was spreading in communities resulting in one death so far, the UK said it was removing all 11 African countries from its red list.
The restrictions, to be lifted at 04:00 GMT today, were imposed towards end of November to stem the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant.
Nigeria described the UK’s move as racist as it was only Africans appearing on the list.
This saw many travellers cancelling their bookings while airlines also suspended flights.
British Airways operated by Comair, had scaled down flights into Victoria Falls to two per week recently, instead of daily due to low numbers of travellers.
The countries removed from the list are: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Health Minister Mr Sajid Javid told the UK’s parliament yesterday that: “Now that there is community transmission of Omicron in the UK and Omicron has spread so widely across the country, the travel red list is now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad.”
In separate interviews yesterday, tourism players said they were happy with the development.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) president Mr Farai Chimba said: “We welcome the development which had been harsh on Southern Africa and the impact will be felt on our establishments for months to come.
“Cancellations have already happened and we see recovery being slow as lead time is two to three months.
Confidence has to be built up again with a need for embracing that the traffic light system hurts economies and the small businesses and their value chains,” said Mr Chimba.
HAZ Matabeleland North chairman Mr Arnald Musonza said the development was welcome but hopes Zimbabwe “will also follow through and remove the quarantine requirements for incoming tourists”.
“Let’s make it easy and simple for our visitors. Allow fully vaccinated people to present a negative PCR test and show their vaccination card and they can come and enjoy what Zimbabwe has to offer in tourist attractions.
“We must ensure that we have proper tracing mechanisms in place that allow our MOHCC (Ministry of Health and Child Care) to monitor all visitors,” said Mr Musonza.
He added that they hope for a recovery in bookings after experiencing “huge cancellations”.
“Now what is left is for our own Government to remove the quarantine requirements so that we can at least salvage some bookings from the Diasporans and also some internationals who may have been waiting for this removal of travel restrictions.
“We hope airlines will also start seeing more flight bookings and this will improve access into destination Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe in general,” said Mr Musonza.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) head Public Relations and Corporate Affairs, Mr Godfrey Koti said the announcement would help bring back travellers “to this beautiful tourism destination”.
“It was an unfortunate action to take because all our international tourists had shelved, postponed or cancelled their travel plans to destination Zimbabwe.
“We do hope some will still fancy to travel over the festive season. To us as the tourism sector, the announcement brings hope for recovery of the sector.
“This is an acknowledgement of our Government’s efforts in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. The vaccination programme has been a resounding success.
“We are looking forward to an increased traffic flow into the destination. We are expecting to see the resumption of flights into destination Zimbabwe,” said Mr Koti.