President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced phased reopening of the country that will see the restart of air travel more than three months after airlines were grounded to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Domestic flights will resume on July 15, while international travel is scheduled to restart on August 1.
These, the President said, will be “in strict conformity with all applicable guidelines and protocols from both the Ministry of Health, local and international civil aviation authorities, and any additional requirements applicable at the ports of departure, arrival or transit.”
Mr Kenyatta announced the ban on air travel in March as part of government measures to curb the spread of coronavirus infections, leading to the grounding of airlines. The restrictions were extended in May, with the exemption of cargo and emergency flights.
The effects of the lockdown have been dire for the local carriers with data from Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) showing that the number of passengers plummeted from 55,000 in March to a paltry 14,300 in April.
Some aviation workers were rendered jobless, sent on unpaid leave or endured salary cuts.
Travel agents have been forced to close businesses after travellers cancelled bookings.
The President has also lifted restrictions in and out of key air travel counties of Nairobi and Mombasa, effective Tuesday 4am. The cessation of movement was also lifted for Mandera County.
However, the nationwide 9pm to 4am curfew has been extended for a further 30 days.
The resumption of air travel is welcome news for domestic carriers who will not be compelled to keep some seats empty in line with public health regulations.
Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director-general Gilbert Kibe said flying with the middle row seats empty will be unsustainable as some airlines will be forced to increase ticket prices, locking out hundreds of passengers.
He said airlines plan to combat spread of the virus by pushing for other measures such as use of face masks, pre-flight screening and sanitising cabins to ensure the safety of passengers and crew. The aircraft will also have seats reserved to deal with any suspected cases of the coronavirus aboard.
The President has, however, called for caution on the phased re-opening, warning that should coronavirus cases surge, the lockdown will be reinstated.
“Should the situation deteriorate and pose a challenge to our health infrastructure, it shall be ‘clawed back’. In the next 21 days, we shall study patterns of interactions and the spread of the disease. Any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic, we will have no choice but to return to the lock-down at zero-option,” he said.
The country had 7,886 confirmed cases as of Sunday, with 160 deaths.