Tourism: UK claims red listing is to protect African markets

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The United Kingdom has stated that the travel restrictions on Kenya and other African countries is not in bad faith, but to protect the countries involved from the new coronavirus variant.

According to Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP (UK Parliament) and vice chairman Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the UK is concerned it could escalate the pandemic with a variant, despite vaccinating nearly half of its population; a report on the-star.co.ke noted.

The highly contagious UK COVID-19 variant (B117 variant) is now reported in every state in the US and other countries, with researchers warning it is between 30 per cent and 100 per cent more deadly than previous dominant variants.

“We are concerned tourists will come to Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa …and we cause a pandemic which will be the most appalling thing we can possibly do,” Liddell-Grainger told a two-days virtual tourism forum which ended on Thursday, where Tourism Najib Balala was a panelist.

“What we are trying to do is open up tourism without taking up the variant which you can still carry to countries that haven’t gotten the variant, even if you have jabs, or bring the variant which we cant cover with the vaccines we have,” he added.

Last Friday, the UK placed Kenya on its ‘Red List’ which include at least other 18 African countries, Middle East and Asian states.

The travel ban comes into effect today( April 9), effectively restricting Kenyans or anybody transiting through Kenyan airports from setting foot in the UK.

British, Irish and third-country nationals with residence rights (including long-term visa holders) arriving from red listed countries are allowed, but will be required to self-isolate (quarantine) in a government-approved hotel facility for 10 days.

It had however not imposed any restrictions on its citizens until Kenya, on Saturday, retaliated by banning visitors from the UK.

The two countries have restricting commercial passenger flights from landing in their territories.

“All UK government officials and diplomats must have a valid Covid-19 vaccination certificate and a valid Covid-19 negative PCR test certificate to enter Kenya,” Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said, with strict quarantine measures in place at the cost of the passenger.

National carrier–Kenya Airways has since suspended flights to the UK effective Friday, April 9, 2021.

“The suspension is due to the directive issued by the government of Kenya suspending all the flights from the UK effective midnight April 9, 2021,” KQ management said.

There has been a rage between the two countries this week, with tourism stakeholders raising concerns it will affect post-Covid recovery for the sector.

Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers chief executive Mike Macharia said: “It will affect tourism since most travelers plan in advance. By UK including Kenya in the ‘Red List’, all hopes of a summer restart of UK tourists were dashed. We hope this will be resolved soon.

Kenya Tourism Federation chairman, Mohammed Hersi, noted:“This is highly regrettable and we hope that both UK and Kenya are able to sit and agree on way forward.”

Traders and Kenya’s agricultural sector players are also worried the restrictions will affect business between the two countries, with UK being a key export market for Kenya’s fresh produces.
Liddell-Grainger said the UK wants to ensure delivery of vaccines to the wider market , manily commonwealth states, before opening up travel.

This, even as the European Union is reported to be keen to retain vaccines for its populations.

“We will not stop vaccines going out. We pledge continued support,” he said, We are in this together. To resolve this (pandemic) we have to work together.”
He said the UK is open to addressing any challenges arising during the travel restriction period.

“If there are issues, we can talk and address them,” Liddell-Grainger said.
Meanwhile, CS Balala has hit at developed countries for hoarding vaccines, which he says despite being the current hope, it has brought even more complications citing challenges in delivery and administration of the latter.

“We cannot over oder for one country while other countries’ do not have even ten per cent of their populations’ vaccines available. If we cant deliver vaccines to countries, then there is no hope,” he said.

Even so, he has called on African countries to invest in tourism enablers, mainly infrastructure, ahead of full post-Covid recovery, which he predicts to come past 2024.

He has also called for the “domestication” of tourism urging intra-Africa, regional and local travel to support the tourism sector.

“This is not a replacement of international tourist but appreciating the domestic markets we have,” he said during the forum dubbed ‘Invest, Rebuild and Restart the African Tourism Sector’.
The UK remains a key international tourists market source for Kenya.

Pre-Covid, it was the second top source with 181,484 arrivals in 2019, a year that the country record the highest international numbers ever, at 2,048, 834.
US led with 245,437 followed by regional markets of Uganda and Tanzania with 223, 010 and 193,740 visitors, respectively, according to Tourism Research Institute( TRI) data.

Immediately after resumption of international flights in August last year, after a six-month hiatus following a suspension in March, the UK had the second most visitors to Kenya recorded at 2,469 in that month.

Visitors from the US were 2,768 as per TRI data, a time when the global travel industry was on its knees on reduced travel and restrictions by countries to mitigate the spread of the virus.

African countries on the UK ‘Red List’ include Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Eswatini, Ethopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

There are currently five variants of concern–B117 (initially detected in the UK, B1351( initially detected in South Africa in December 2020 and P1 (initially identified in travelers from Brazil during routine screening at an airport in Japan, in early January.

Others are B1427 and B1429 which were first identified in California (US) in February 2021.

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