Comment: Africa deserves better than the red list

Region has learned lessons of previous pandemics, says African Travel and Tourism (ATTA) president Nigel Vere Nicoll

Ironically, it appears that the elephant in the room in global tourism will once again be Africa.

Remember 2014, when the Ebola epidemic in West Africa shut down tourism throughout the continent despite the outbreak being further away from most of Africa’s safari destinations than the UK?

So, its Groundhog Day as the ‘darkest Africa’ cloud gathers and the UK’s dreaded red brush remains firmly over most of the key African tourism destinations, preventing all international travel. A touch of red, and tourism’s dead.

The old chestnut put forward of limited testing capacity, poor health and under-reporting are pulled out of the hat again and again without detailed scrutiny. That narrative does not fit the reality.

The reality is the numbers of deaths from Covid-19 across the 13, or so, key safari destinations in sub–Saharan Africa are low.

There have been just 70,000 deaths in a total population across those 13 countries of around 400 million (and 80% are in one country, South Africa).

So why are these countries with the exception of Uganda, still on the UK’s red list?

A recent report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention Control and its African counterpart makes these points, in support of the reasons why Africa’s death rates in this pandemic are so low.

  1. Resources and lessons learned throughout Africa, from widespread HIV and tuberculosis, were leveraged in the fight against Covid 19.
  2. The political will of most African governments has been a key element in the response, with swift lockdowns restricting movement and taskforces organised to coordinate efforts.
  3. Warm weather gives Africa a much-needed lifeline and moving forward safari is an open-air experience anyway.
  4. Compared with Europe, Africa has a far lower importation risk of the virus based on the volume of air travel from say, China to Africa.
  5. Probably the most important reason of all, is the low infection rate of Africa’s very young population, with a median age of 19.4 years compared with 40 in UK and 38 in USA. The average age for fatalities from Covid-19 in UK is 80.4 which underlines the data that the disease is far more severe in older populations.

Although it is true that Africa does not have the same testing capacity as other regions in the world, the low numbers are explained by the fact that Africa has a long experience of handling infectious diseases and that its youthful population is far less susceptible to the virus than other continents.

Our plea to UK’s Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) who hold the sword of Damocles is for a science-based approach combining the right balance between risk and protection.

Then, once the selections for each of the green, amber, and red lists are made at the next review, the Foreign Office (FCDO) must also review its travel advice so that outbound and inbound restrictions are aligned.

Only then can the elephant be let out of the room allowing safaris and business travel to Africa to resume once again.

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