The environment and tourism ministry has expressed its support towards an appeal by key tourism players for the review of the wording in the current Gazette with regards to the 72-hour ruling on valid PCR tests necessary to enter Namibia.
Tourism players have requested that the public health regulations be amended to the original wording of not older than 72 hours up to the time of first embarkation. They argue this is in line with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) standard wording from “first embarkation”. Furthermore, 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, China) and North America to reach Namibia.
The current public health regulations, which came into force on 15 August 2021 and are effective until 15 September 2021, state that persons permitted to enter Namibia under sub-regulation (two) may not enter Namibia unless such persons, at the time of entering Namibia, present to an authorised person a SARS-CoV-2 PCR test result from the country of departure.
“Since the announcement, some Namibian tour operators have lost several millions of Namibia dollars in bookings from the US market for the months August and September. With every day and week, the losses to the tourism sector increase, and the attractiveness of and confidence in Namibia as attainable travel destination dwindle,” Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) chief executive officer Gitta Paetzold indicated.
Such test result is not older than 72 hours calculated from the date that the sample for testing was taken; and was issued by a laboratory that is certified in the country of issue to issue SARS-CoV-2 PCR test results.
Some tourism stakeholders expressed concern that 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.
Environment and tourism spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said “regarding the 72 hours, the ministry agrees with the sentiments expressed by the sector. We have submitted this concern with the relevant authorities for a possible revision of the wording.”
The ministry proposes that the regulations should rather read “a person entering or transiting Namibia must have a negative Covid-19 PCR test result issued at most 72 hours before departure from the first embarkation point”.
Meanwhile, Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) chief executive officer Digu /Naobeb observed that the rationale by the health ministry is understandable to curb the further spread of ongoing variations in the coronavirus due to mutations.
“However, this has some negative implications for the tourism revival initiative, especially those travellers travelling from the USA and China who need more overlies during their journey as there are limitations in direct flights outward or inward to these destinations,” he clarified.
The request to follow provisions in terms of time from when a PCR test shall be valid as of embarkation and so supported by the environment ministry, in their submission to the health ministry, will alleviate this challenge as currently portrayed in some quarters. This is not for the benefit of a few in the industry, but a wider position from all stakeholders.
//Naobeb added that it is not helpful that some people continue to advance personal agendas and vendettas to justify the failure of some instead of advocating inclusivity.
Paetzold said what is of huge concern for tourism at the moment is the fact that persistent and more stringent entry rules to Namibia since the end of July seem to be killing some hard-fought for foreign markets, especially the USA.
According to the figures and comparisons with previous years, HAN’s latest report shows that in July this year, 4,13% of the guests hosted at establishments across Namibia came from the United States, which is higher than the US occupancy in 2019.
She stressed that the Namibian tourism industry, which had worked very hard to grow the US market, anticipated a healthy growth to that market in the coming months, given the reservations received from that market.
“This hope has come crushing down with the introduction of the 72-hour test ruling that Namibia introduced at the end of July, as reaching Namibia via air from source markets that would need to catch connecting flights via third countries is almost impossible within the 72-hour limit,” Paetzold argued.
She explained that when calculating the time from date of swab to date of arrival, although the timeframe is not clearly defined in the Gazette, results in uncertainty and hesitancy.