East Africa is moving closer to fully reopening its tourism, service and aviation sectors following this week’s review of the United Kingdom’s controversial Red List, which had almost halted travel and slowed down trade and tourism on the continent over the past 10 months.
UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Thursday that removing 47 countries including Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, DRC and Burundi from the Red List with effect 4am, October 11, was a “major step forward” for the UK travel industry.
The removal from the Red List means people arriving from those destinations will no longer need to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 ($) per traveller.
But for now, unlike other countries in the region that have to wait for the UK to recognise their vaccination certificates, Kenya is an immediate beneficiary of the lifting of restrictions as the UK now recognises its vaccination certificates.
“We are pleased to announce that from Monday October 11, those vaccinated in Kenya will be able to travel to the UK without having to undertake any quarantine, or take a Covid-19 test before departure. Thanks to our strong partnership with the Ministry of Health, we have completed the process to recognise vaccine certificates from Kenya,” said the British High Commission to Kenya in a statement.
Kenyan Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala assured international tourists that Kenya has invested heavily in the vaccination drive enough to resume tourism.
“We cannot ignore the international market for it has its dynamics and advantages. We have heavily invested in domestic market tourism, Kenya has a thriving domestic market. Kenyans have been supporting the sector but we need to revive international market,” said Mr Balala.
This means that though Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and DRC have been removed from the Red List, travellers from these countries still have to take Covid tests before departure and on arrival as well as self-isolate for 10 days on arrival because the UK is yet to recognise their vaccination certificates.
UK officials told The East African that their government is undertaking a systems audit for quality assurance before vaccination certificates are recognised process is ongoing, and the list of accepted vaccination certificates will be updated based on the outcome of the review.
Despite the vaccination certificate recognition hurdle, the review of the Red list is expected to boost travel and business confidence in the coming weeks.
The UK recognises vaccine certificates from 37 countries including Brazil, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey.
A few hours after the UK’s pronouncement on the Red list, major airlines announced relaunching flights including increasing frequency to major tourist destinations in Africa including South Africa.
For example, in Rwanda, optimism is high that the country may now finally get to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which has been suspended twice due to the pandemic.
Its national carrier—RwandAir— which recently signed a code-share agreement with Qatar Airways will benefit as the London route remains important for Rwanda’s exports as well as transit passengers to and from Europe.
“It is a big relief that Rwanda is off the Red list, the interceptions we suffered this year had roots in the bias that Rwanda was a Covd-19 hotspot.”
“This gives us confidence, the challenges we have been having will reduce,“ said Robert Rukundo, the president of Rwanda Horticulture Exporters Association, and an exporter to the UK.
This decision is expected to give renewed impetus to the region whose economies are still ailing from Covid-19 lockdowns as well as restrictions on movement of people and goods.
In particular, the region’s tourism, aviation and service sectors are expected to benefit from the lifting of restrictions ahead of the festive season.
While definite figures on how the Red list has affected regional economies are yet to be released, travel restrictions have hit hard its tourism, aviation and service sectors as countries, big on tourism, missed out on traditional UK arrivals during the peak of the northern hemisphere’s summer holidays.
The Red list has not only separated families but also undermined academic and professional exchanges between the region and Britain as Britons were reluctant to travel, afraid of mandatory quarantine on arrival from or transit through a Red list country.
Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were first placed on the Red list in January this year, and later Kenya and Uganda were added following a severe third Covid-19 wave hit the region.
This may all change after the removal of the region from the Red list as international travel rebounds.
But the list has created a major diplomatic row between countries and Britain in recent months, with the majority seeking explanations from the UK government over the “arbitrary decision.”
And despite intense lobbying by African diplomats, the UK has maintained that the list was necessary to contain the spread of new variants. It also said countries in the region have limited genome sequencing testing capacity which increases the risk of new variants not being detected.
Additional reporting by Moses. K. Gahigi, Luke Anami, Anthony Kitimo and Ange Iliza.