At the beginning of this year, I had a personal goal to explore 20 countries in 2020. I even made it to country number six before the coronavirus pandemic hit, bringing my plans to an impromptu halt around the 10th of March. Even walking to my departure gate at Johannesburg’s O.R.Tambo International Airport, I could already sense a shift in the air as everyone— janitors, check in desk attendants and several passengers— walked around in face masks and fervently scrubbed their hands clean in the bathroom sinks. The week since then had been like something out of a Hollywood movie as the pandemic hit closer home. It has since struck several African countries in quick succession with the first diagnosed case in Nairobi being announced by the Health Minister on 13th March. As I write these there are seven reported cases.
President Uhuru Kenyatta announced several measures to prevent the continued spread of the virus including a temporary lockdown on Kenya’s borders; travelers from any country with a confirmed case would not be allowed in, and only Kenyans and foreigners with permanent residency would be let into the country on condition that they agreed to a quarantine. Numerous countries continue to withhold visas as even the US and EU member states prevent flights from nations with diagnosed cases to help manage continued spread, and this measure is already having dire effects on the tourism and hospitality industry.
With people being urged to stay at home in Kenya, there have been several restrictions to ensure this happens, all while tourists continue to cancel pre-booked flights and hotel reservations. Mombasa, one of our main tourist hubs, has closed its bars and nightclubs and set restrictions on working hours for 30 days. Some beaches are out of bounds as museums and public galleries close temporarily. Conferences, events and festivals will certainly not be taking place this month either which means a further hit for the industry. This pandemic has struck just a few months after terrorist attacks in Lamu, one of the country’s in-vogue destinations, and the island was on its way to recovery.
At the onset, because flight prices had drastically reduced, there were online memes that boomers were self-isolating while millennials were taking advantage of low flight and accommodation rates to travel more. With all the international restrictions since then, however, and the uncertainty of possibly being quarantined somewhere far from home, domestic travel may be the way to go for Kenyans still keen to travel.
Self-isolating which means no even domestic travel or even going to restaurants; quarantine benefits not just yourself but also prevents spreading it.
While these measures is indeed a no-brainer, there can also be increased vigilance in certain industries to ensure people and businesses stay afloat. Rwanda could have temporarily shut down its public transport system but the government instead created awareness around hand sanitisation and installed hand washing stations outside public bus stops.
Consider traveling to remote, serene and non-crowded places such as the Mathews Range or driving up to the Aberdares. Places like Naivasha’s Enashipai remain open for business except for their nightclub, buffet restaurants and steam and sauna rooms. A lot of lodges and hotels across the country are still in operation, but there are of course have to be vigilant.
Several properties also have offers now so this might just be the time to drive down to that camp in Laikipia that you’ve always wanted to check out. As the situation remains uncertain for the immediate future, there are also flexible room and flight cancellation policies. People in the industry don’t want to contract coronavirus any more than you. If you want to get away from the anxiety, you can still go hiking up Ngong Hills or ring up that hotel with the special offers to find out what measures they’ve put in place to prevent continued spread, and if they’re in-line with health guidelines by WHO. Then you can consider making the trip...