Plane loads of tourists aboard Ethiopian, KLM and Turkish airlines are expected to land in Tanzania in the next one week, marking a critical milestone in the on-going re-opening of the country’s economy following nearly two months of lockdown.
The country’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, hotels and schools are all heeding President John Magufuli’s directive to re-open the entire economy following what he termed as significantly reduced cases of coronavirus patients in the country.
The president, in a public address in the capital city, Dodoma, said there is no longer a need to curtail economic activity while hospitals across Tanzania had empty beds having discharged nearly all Covid-19 positive patients after they tested negative for the virus.
“God has heard our prayers. I call upon anyone who has been touched by this to use Friday, Saturday and Sunday to give special thanks to God,” said President Magufuli on Thursday.
Tanzania has not reported its national tally of Covid-19 positive cases since April 29. Its official toll remains at 509 with 21 deaths as at May 7, when the semi-autonomous Zanzibar island last announced its numbers.
It becomes the first East African nation to reopen, charting a new path in the management of the deadly virus that has infected more than 5.1 million people across the world and killed over 333,000 in about six months.
The country’s airspace opened for international arrivals on May 18. Among the six East African Community member countries, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have the strictest travel restrictions while Burundi and South Sudan have also issued public health advisories to curb the spread of the virus.
A chartered plane with four Greek nationals onboard landed at the Kilimanjaro International Airport on May 21. The visitors proceeded straight to sample the country’s tourist attractions after the lifting of a 14-day mandatory quarantine that had been imposed on April 4.
Entrants into the country will now only have their temperatures checked on arrival, as per new guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.
Tourism is a critical sector of Tanzania’s economy, contributing about 17 per cent to the annual Gross Domestic Product and employing an estimated 623,000 workers. About 1.9 million tourists visited the country’s parks and beaches last year, injecting $2.5 billion into the economy according to data from the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The country estimates that a continued shutdown of its borders would have drastically reduced earnings from tourism by 75 per cent. Majority of the tourists who booked their travel prior the pandemic postponed their trips to next year.
President Magufuli also announced that High School candidates whose final examinations were postponed in May will resume classes on June 1.
He instructed the education ministry to prepare a special programme to prepare them for the final exams later this year and enable them to join universities without interrupting the academic calendar. Primary and junior secondary schools will however remain closed.
Some European countries, which form the bulk of Tanzania’s tourists, have started re-opening their economies after months of shutdowns. The UK, France, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Turkey and Iceland have all announced variations of relaxations in their lockdowns that will even see them partially re-open their airspaces.
“We’re resuming our tourism activities, getting ready to receive international tourists from all over the world especially now that nations have started lifting lockdowns,” said Hamisi Kigwangalla, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism.
Turkish Airlines announced that it expects to resume international flights on June 1.
“Dear passengers, in accordance with decisions taken by the official authorities, all international flights have been suspended until June 1 in order to protect public health against the Covid-19 pandemic,” reads a statement published on the airline’s website.
According to Dr Kigwangalla, both the Ethiopian Airways flight — expected on June 1 — and the Turkish Airlines flight are fully booked.
“We have set several health measures including onboard passengers to submit proof that they have tested negative for negative,” he said.
Ummy Mwalimu, the Tanzania Health Minister, said in a statement on May 18, that they had eased the country’s travel advisory “following a decreased trend of admitted Covid-19 cases in the country”.
The reviewed travel advisory has outlined seven measures intended to accommodate international arrivals.
All entrants will be required to fill out travellers’ surveillance forms and submit to Port Health Authorities upon arrival. They will be required to adhere to Infection Prevention and Control measures, which include hand hygiene, wearing masks and physical distancing as appropriate to avoid further spread of the virus.
Flight operators will be given instructions on how to clean and disinfect their aircraft before and after landing in the country.
On May 17, President Magufuli announced the full recovery of coronavirus patients across the country.
Speaking at a Sunday service at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in his home town, Chato, the president said the majority of inpatients with Covid-19 had recovered from the disease.
He said Dar es Salaam had only 132 cases, Arusha, the tourist hub, had 11 patients, Mwanza six patients and Dodoma two, down from 40 confirmed cases.
“Majority are in stable condition but still test positive of the virus,” said President Magufuli.
He added that colleges and universities would resume classes and sports activities would re-open if the numbers remained low.
All commercial passenger flights, diplomatic flights, emergency aircraft related to humanitarian aid and medical relief are now allowed into the country without restrictions.