Zambia Reopens Airspace in Efforts to Mitigate the Economic Fallouts of Covid-19

President Edgar Lungu has announced the immediate re-opening of international airports to air traffic following indications that the Covid-19 pandemic curve is flattening in the country. The country’s airspace was closed on March 25 in a bid to protect the people amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

The President said the measure will trigger the recovery of the tourism sector in the country, adding that the country must get back to work fully under the new normal.

 

He directed the ministers of Communication and Transport, Finance, Home Affairs and of Tourism to work together in ensuring stringent health guidelines such as screening and testing passengers with symptoms, masking, social distancing, and frequent washing of hands are observed. He also instructed the follow-up of travelers who test positive, sending them for treatment, while holding those from destinations still reporting cases into quarantine.

 

These measures relaxing the lockdown notwithstanding, the President said bars and nightclubs would remain closed until the weather conditions are favourable and special guidelines for this sub-sector are devised and put in place.  He hinged this position on the tutoring of health experts who he said, “advised that coronavirus thrives in extremely cold weather conditions”, which the country is currently experiencing. 

 

One of Zambia's Tourism Wonders (C) Zambia Daily Mail

 

Inspired by the situation in other countries in Asia, the President noted that Zambia had to be cautious when it comes to easing up any restrictions lest it risks the spike in the number of positive Covid-19 cases.

 

“We have learnt that a number of countries in Asia where Covid-19 was reported to have experienced the resurgence in cases after restrictions were eased despite an initial aggressive approach to slowing the progress of COVID-19 having been successful. In some instances, countries have had to re-institute public health and social measures such as restriction on movement and interactions between people to once again fight the spread of the virus.’ he said

 

On the tourism front, according to the International Growth Centre (IGC) in Zambia, the first three months of 2020 saw a drop of over 14,000 international visitors in Zambia. In 2019 the industry contributed 7% of the GDP (USD 1,701 million) and 7.2% of total employment (469 thousand jobs).  IGC also indicates that International visitors spent USD 849 million, representing 10% of Zambia’s total exports.

 

Meanwhile  a  snap poll of members of the Eco-Tourism Association of Zambia (ETAZ) suggesting that Zambia’s safari tourism and allied sectors such as Airlines and charters would suffer a loss in income of USD100 million in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

The Minister of Tourism and Arts, Ronald Chitotela told Timescape Magazine in an interview that officials from his ministry were already on the ground preparing for the immediate opening of international airports.

“…a team from my ministry is already collaborating with the ministry of health and ministry of transport and communication in ensuring that all international airports are ready for full operations. The teams will visit Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe in Ndola, Mfuwe and Harry Mwanga Nkumbula in Livingstone…’’

Reacting to the President’s announcement, the Private Sector Development Agency Executive Director Yusuf Dodia told Timescape Magazine that government should give “confidence to the airlines that our airports are Covid-19 free by ensuring that all preventive measures which should include testing of passengers leaving Zambia and those coming in are thoroughly tested”.

He warned that if confidence-building measures are not put in place well enough, the country risked turning the airports into white elephants because no traffic would be coming through.