Uganda hospitality sector feels early heat of Covid-19

Saturday March 21 2020

Uganda coronavirus

Airport personnel prepare for passengers arriving on international flights at the port health desk where they are screened for signs of the novel coronavirus at Entebbe Airport on March 3, 2020. PHOTO | SUMY SADURNI | AFP 

JONATHAN KAMOGA
By JONATHAN KAMOGA
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Uganda’s economy is feeling the ripple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic even though the country is yet to report it’s first case of infection, and authorities worry it could get worse if the pandemic is not contained where it has already been detected.

Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and the DR Congo have all confirmed cases of infection and the country has gone into high alert.

On Wednesday, President Yoweri Museveni announced enhanced measures that include the closure of public spaces categorised as high concentration areas for a possible spread of the virus including all learning institutions by March 20, while worship centres were ordered to stop conducting prayers with immediate effects.

Far-reaching bans

Political and cultural gatherings such as weddings have also been forbidden for 32 days. For now, offices companies, markets, shopping malls, factories, hotels and public transport have however been allowed to continue normal operations.

Their operations will, however, be guided by standard operational procedures to be issued to by the Ministry of Health which will include employers installing temperature monitors and handwash points.

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The country has also banned Ugandans going to and through highly affected countries for 32 days. Foreigners living in the country will only be allowed to leave after they provide assurance not to return within 32 days.

Foreigners and Ugandans coming into the country will be required to undergo a mandatory 14 day quarantine at gazetted places.

While all these were being announced, the country’s tourism industry, the biggest foreign exchange earner, is already taking a major hit and operators are grappling with booking cancellations mostly from Europe and Asia.

The government has advised tourists coming from heavily hit countries to postpone their visits and relaxed rescheduling rules.

The Kampala Serena hotel, Sheraton hotel and Hotel Africana which have been operating at nearly 80 per cent occupancy rate have reported a huge decline to slightly below 20 per cent and had by Thursday incurred losses of about $15 million, according to the Hotel Owners Association.

According to Suzan Muhwezi the association chairperson, upcountry hotels, lodges and resorts are operating under 15 per cent and many have started laying off staff.

Even after reducing their prices to half price and below, the situation is not expected to improve after a Wednesday government advisory limiting non-essential travels in the country especially using public transport.

Amos Wekesa, the proprietor of the Uganda Lodges with a chain of lodges around the country and also the Great Lakes Safaris one of the biggest tour companies in the country said that by Tuesday, his company alone had received over 2,500 cancellations from clients and lost over $250,000 in just a week.

“What is key for us is to try and keep jobs even with no business,” Mr Wekesa said.

Stock markets

The country’s stock market continued to fall this week. At the start of the week, the market recorded a turnover of Ush3.9 million ($1,000) with 157,795 shares traded, while on Tuesday, the market recorded a turnover of Ush3.42 million ($900) with 104,394 shares traded.

On Wednesday, trading raised a meagre Ush745,942 ($199) in turnover from 18,593 shares traded.

Several counters did not register any activity.

Uganda Airlines

Uganda Airlines, which operates scheduled flights in the region said it was reviewing its operations to comply with health and safety guidelines, operational requirements and regulatory directives in the face of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

In a statement posted on its website on Wednesday, the airline announced planned suspension of flights to Mogadishu, Kilimanjaro, Mombasa, Zanzibar and Nairobi.

The airline also said that it will reduce its frequency between its Entebbe hub and Nairobi from three to two flights a day effective March 23.

Flights to Kilimanjaro will be suspended effective March 20, 2020, Mombasa effective March 22, and Zanzibar effective March 23.

Flights to Bujumbura will be suspended effective March 22 until further notice.

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