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Why is most of Africa not on UK Covid exempt list?

Why is most of Africa not on UK Covid exempt list?
  • PublishedOctober 8, 2020

The UK’s requirement that tourists returning from most African countries must quarantine for 14 days defies logic, says Anver Versi. It has serious implications for African countries that rely on tourism but is not applied to tourists returning from places with far higher levels of Covid-19.

Africa can be justified in once again claiming a case of double standards. This is in relation to the lists issued by various countries on Covid-19 quarantine regulations for travellers returning from certain countries.

For example, UK residents returning from their trips abroad are required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival – unless the country they visited is on an exempt list. At the time of writing, some 74 countries were on the list – mainly in Europe and some Caribbean and Asian nations.

What is astonishing is that despite the fact that there is usually a very heavy traffic of travellers – tourists, business people, expatriates and immigrants to Africa, especially at this time of the year – only two African countries are on the exempt list: Seychelles and Mauritius.

Clearly, the aim of the list is to discourage UK residents from travelling to countries where the risk of contracting the virus is deemed high, thus necessitating the inconvenience – and potential loss of earnings – of the mandatory quarantine.

Countries where the British authorities in their wisdom believe the risk of contracting the virus is negligible – because the number of cases is very low compared to the UK – are placed on the exempt list.

This would be all fine and dandy if the list made sense. It does not – in fact it defies logic.

None of the 74 countries on the exempt list are entirely Covid-free. Many of them have low infection and death rates, but some have very high rates on both counts; for example, as at 24 September, Germany  had 276,070 cases with 9,428 deaths and Italy 302,537 cases  with 35,758 deaths. Yet UK visitors to these countries are not required to quarantine on their return.

Compare this to WHO figures for African countries. As of the same date, Kenya had 37,348 cases / 664 deaths; Tanzania 10,536 cases / 271 deaths; Uganda 6,879 cases / 69 deaths and Rwanda 4,779 cases / 27 deaths. Yet none of these countries are on the exempt list. Where is the logic? It seems like another case of Africa bashing.

Serious consequences

The problem is that this exclusion from the list has serious implications for African countries that rely heavily on the travel and hospitality industries.

Many countries, including African ones, depend strongly on travel and tourism for the bulk of their income. The industry is also a major employer of labour, directly as well as indirectly, in restaurants, pubs, clubs, on tours, safaris and so on.

It provides a steady demand for all sorts of foods and beverages, supporting the agricultural sector and is the mainstay of tourism-related retail trade, from souvenirs to speciality clothing.

This is not even to mention its contribution to the airline industry and the millions who work in it, or for that matter, other logistical support – cruise ships, boats, cars, buses and myriad other activities.

Traditionally, the UK has been a major source of visitors to East Africa coming up to the pre-Christmas holiday season. Thousands of UK residents with links to East Africa, Nigeria and Ghana also spend their holidays back in their places of origin.

Speaking to the UK’s The Independent newspaper, Paul Goldstein, co-owner of Kicheche Safari Camps in Kenya, said: ‘The entire African continent has been daubed with the government’s broad and wildly inaccurate Covid brush.

“The British policy of not allowing anyone to travel there is farcical, as well as throwing millions of healthy Kenyans into penury. It will also have a lasting effect on wildlife as animals need the tourist dollar and policing eyes of safari-goers.”

In fact, the total number of deaths from coronavirus in the whole of Africa, at 25,202, is just about 60% of the number of deaths registered in the UK alone. If African countries are willing to accept visitors from the UK without demanding they quarantine, one would except the UK to at least show some reciprocal courtesy – after all, African countries with their low exposure are taking a far greater chance than they are.

It is imperative that the Tourism and Foreign Ministries in the affected African countries demand an explanation from the UK on why they have been excluded from the list. 

Written By
Anver Versi

Award-winning journalist Anver Versi is the editor of New African magazine. He was born in Kenya and is currently based in London, UK.

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