Uganda like the rest of East Africa is reopening its economy for tourism.
President Yoweri Museveni announced on Sunday September 20, 2020 that the country’s international airport and land borders will reopen and resume operations for tourists after a more than six-month closure as part of measures against the spread of COVID-19.
Yoweri Museveni’s announcement came during his 20th address to the nation on government measures to contain the virus’s spread in the country.
Kenya and Rwanda resumed international flights on 1 August, as the region began reopening its skies in time for the end-year tourism peak season.
The decision by Kenya and Rwanda to reopen their skies amidst a surge in COVID-19 cases follows similar decisions in Tanzania and South Sudan in June.
International passengers entering Uganda just like Kenya and Rwanda will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test result.
President Museveni said the test should have been conducted within the last 72 hours before the scheduled departure from the country of origin. Returning Ugandans with negative PCR results will be allowed to go home, and the Health Ministry will only get their addresses for follow up.
The president also said any passengers arriving in Uganda must be in possession of a negative COVID-19 polymerize chain reaction (PCR) test result from an accredited laboratory in the country of origin.
Kenya accepts test results produced seven days to arrival and Rwanda’s rules require test results produced 72 hours before.
Mr Museveni said hotels shall be allowed to operate as agreed in observance of the Standard Operational Procedures (SOP’s). And restaurants shall continue to operate with limited patrons preferably on a takeaway/to-go or delivery basis.
The President however declined to reopen bars because the “sobriety” of patrons cannot be guaranteed and therefore allow them to observe social distancing.
The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority in a letter to the airlines’ executives said 13 flights to and from the airport have been cleared for the first day, while 10 flights are confirmed for the second.
Airlines in the country, including the national carrier Uganda Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Kenya Airways, Qatar Airways, Air Tanzania, Ethiopian Airlines, FlyDubai, RwandAir, KLM, Emirates, Brussels Airlines, and Tarco Aviation are expected to resume flights following the president’s announcement.
Entebbe International Airport was closed to passenger traffic since March except for evacuation and repatriation flights and cargo. The closure hit sectors hard like tourism, which mostly relies on aviation.
In August, Uganda reopened its national parks to visitors to help salvage an ailing travel sector. But local visitors were not enough to sustain it. Ugandan tourism needs foreign visitors back as soon as possible.
Last June the President estimated that Uganda would lose $1.6 billion a year in earnings from tourism as visitors stay away due to the impact of the coronavirus.
The president did not say what time frame he was referring to. However, data from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics shows Uganda earned $2 billion from tourism activities in 2017, up from $1.7 billion the previous year.
The sector has been contributing approximately 8% of the GDP and supported 667,600 jobs directly and 1.6 million jobs indirectly. Therefore, the sector’s growth has had a tremendous impact on our economy.
The International Monetary Fund said last month that Uganda’s tourism earnings were expected to fall 54% in the 2019/20 (July-June) fiscal year, and decline 52% in the next year.
Despite the vibrancy and success recorded in recent years, the tourism sector has been hardest hit by the outbreak of COVID-19.
Three years of sustained marketing of the country by international firms the government hired in 2016, had moved Uganda beyond depending on the so-called high seasons (June- August and mid-December to February).
Tourism is one of Uganda’s economic mainstays as the east African country attracts visitors to see a range of game including lions, giraffes, buffalos and others that roam its savannahs.
Others are drawn by the mountain gorillas in forest in the southwest of the country on the border with Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
A recent study by the East African Business Council says the East African Community Partner States will potentially lose about 6.2 million tourists and receipts of upwards of $5.4b for the year 2020; due to COVID-19 and the associated inevitable restrictions.
The trickle-down effects will be felt across affiliated industries and the rest of the economies within the region.
But even as Uganda reopens to tourism it is unlike the sector will quickly recover because international visitors lack of access to a vaccine: probably not until mid-2021; likely increased cost of air fares given reduced demand and expenses associated with cleaning airplanes; reduced purchasing power of tourists due to loss of income; health safety issues related to air travel and up-country lodges will not re-open until they can be assured of reasonable level of capacity utilization
Uganda’s cumulative covid19 cases stand at 6287 with 63 deaths since the lockdown was first announced following the closure of all borders on 21st March 2020. And 2,616 have since recovered.
UJA House, Bombo Rd,
Keti Falawo Zone, Kawempe Division
Kampala – Uganda