Reports of new Covid strain spark fresh tourism concerns


Tourists relax at a beach in Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Hoteliers are worried that stopping the flights from the UK as other 40 countries have done will further harm their businesses, that are on the mend following devastation by the pandemic.

The UK is a key source market for Kenya's tourism sector but a new variant of coronavisru has led countries including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Finland Iran, Jordan, Hong Kong to suspend flights from the Britain while others have shut their borders to stem transmission of the virus.

The new virus strain has reportedly been discovered in South Africa, with the country recording higher numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalisations and deaths forcing some countries to impose travel restrictions.

In Africa, Sudan banned travellers arriving from Britain, the Netherlands and South Africa from Monday until January 5. Tunisia suspended airlines with Australia, Britain and South Africa until further notice.

The new variant is spreading quickly in London and South East England raising concerns across the world.

But Kenya Tourism Federation Chairman Mohammed Hersi and the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Coast executive Dr Sam Ikwaye said the country should not be quick to stop UK flights.

Dr Ikwaye called for restrain in imposing restrictions.

"We need not fear. We need to stand together with UK and South Africa and support them. The direction of shutting out airspace will give room for fear. We must treat this pandemic the same way we face terrorism. We should not impose advisories every time there's a pandemic, " he said.

Dr Ikwaye said the economy will be badly affected if Kenya imposes the same.

"In the last few days UK and South Africa have been being singled out for being hosts to a new strain of Covid19. Nations are now closing their airspace to flights from UK some for seven days while others for 48 hours," said Mr Hersi, warning that such rush decisions will hurt tourism and aviation sectors that have just begun to show signs of revival.

“I think this new fear is worse than even Wuhan announcement. While UK is being isolated Brexit discussion clock is ticking. Well they say when it rains it pours,” he said.

“I have no doubt in my mind UK will overcome. We all closed our airspace and the world went into lockdown and now someone is trying to start a round two episode.”

Kenya recorded 470,971 tourists between January to October compared to 1,718,155 international arrivals in a similar period last year. International arrivals fell by 72 percent in the 10 months to October compared to a similar period last year.

The pandemic has had adverse effects on the tourism sector with almost all hotels shutdown on the onset of Covid-19.

Data from the Tourism Research Institute shows that 166,347 or 35.32 percent of the tourist came to visit friends and families while 93,817 were on holiday.