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    Monday, August 23, 2021

    Tourism Businesses Appeal for COVID-19 Test Rule Change

    By Albertina Nakale

    The Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) and the Tour and Safari Association of Namibia as well as some key tourism service providers last week jointly drafted an appeal for the review of the wording in the current gazette regarding the 72 hour ruling on valid PCR tests necessary to enter Namibia.

    As per the current Public Health Regulations, which came into force on 15 August 2021 and are effective until 15 September 2021, persons permitted to enter Namibia under sub-regulation (2) may not enter Namibia unless such persons, at the time of entering Namibia, present to an authorised SARS-CoV-2 PCR test result from the country of departure.

    Such test results should not be older than 72 hours, calculated from the date the sample for testing was taken and issued by a certified laboratory to issue SARS-CoV-2 PCR test results.

    "But a change in the wording of one regulation is stifling long-haul travel, thus creating enormous losses in the tourism industry to the nation's economy and cost thousands of Namibians their jobs," HAN chief executive officer Gitta Paetzold reasoned.

    She said their joint letter was delivered to the environment and tourism ministry, who indicated in their ongoing support for the Tourism Revival Initiative to urgently engage with their counterparts at the health as well as home affairs and immigration ministries.

    Other partners who signed the letter include Natural Selection managing director Ally Karaerua, Africa Tourist Info managing director David Cartwright, Gondwana Collection CEO Gys Joubert, Wilderness Safaris business unit manager Nathaly Ahrens, Ongava Game Reserve sales and marketing general manager Rob Moffett as well as Ultimate Safaris managing director Tristan Cowley.

    The partners contend the potential loss to Namibia is quantifiable.

    "If the current wording were to remain in place, it would result in 60% cancellation of bookings, held by long-haul travellers. This can be extrapolated to 30 or 40 businesses across Namibia in both rural and urban areas. Over a year, this would result in the loss of N$20 million bookings. Crude extrapolation across 40 businesses is up to N$800m direct loss, and 3 000 citizens stand to lose their jobs."

    Paetzold said the letter is self-explanatory and provides some crucial facts that if considered and applied correctly could save thousands of jobs in tourism and help salvage efforts for tourism recovery in Namibia - which, unfortunately, under the current circumstances, looks bleak.

    By yesterday, Peatzold said they have not yet received an official response but a firm indication from the environment minister Pohamba Shifeta that he would raise it with his health and immigration counterparts.

    Tourism players have requested the public health regulations to be amended to the original wording of not older than 72 hours up to the time of the first embarkation.

    They argue this is in line with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) standard wording from 'the first embarkation'. Further, they are convinced this will make it possible geographically for visitors from high-value source markets across time zones, including Far East Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore and China) and North America to reach Namibia.

    "We kindly request the authorities to amend the regulation to its original wording of 72 hours up to the time of the first embarkation. This will harmonise Namibia's regulations with South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and many other countries. This change will help to keep businesses open. It will save Namibian jobs, and it will help to ensure that the tourism industry - Namibia's 3rd largest industry prior to the pandemic - survives.

    Moreover, the tourism players argue Namibia's peer group wording of PCR testing requirement demonstrates clearly that countries with significant high-end tourism attraction - specifically South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe - will benefit directly from the cancellations and lost bookings that the wording of Namibia's regulations restricts.

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