When will Covid-19 end? In South Africa, the travel industry cannot wait

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The end of Covid-19 in South Africa did not happen as expected this week. Instead of removing remaining restrictions as many had expected, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged South Africans to keep fighting the pandemic.

“If we all get vaccinated, continue to observe basic health measures and always remain vigilant, we can continue our lives even with the virus among us,” he told parliament on Thursday.

This is a departure from the sudden easing of pandemic restrictions undertaken by the UK, Scandinavia and some US states last week. And that makes it an unusual time to travel, with a patchwork of conflicting pandemic rules and regulations around the world.

It has also left many here wondering when Covid-19 will finally end. Is he still out of Africa? And Cape Town? And if the pandemic isn’t over, how much longer do we have to wait?

South Africa’s tourism industry, including its hotels and attractions, is growing impatient with rules that keep visitors away. But there are encouraging signs that people are starting to travel again, even abroad.

When will Covid-19 finally end?

People seem eager to know when the pandemic will be over. And they are looking for a definitive sign, similar to the broad easing of restrictions and quarantine requirements in the UK this week.

The World Health Organization came close to that on Thursday, when it said Africa was emerging from the pandemic phase and poised to become endemic.

“I believe that we are coming out of the pandemic phase and we will now have to manage the presence of this virus in the long term,” said Matshidiso Moeti, a doctor and public health specialist, during a press briefing. “We think we’re heading now, especially with the expected increase in vaccination, towards what could become some sort of endemic living with the virus.”

Last week, South African authorities announced that people who test positive for coronavirus but show no symptoms of Covid-19 no longer have to self-isolate. The government has also reopened schools for in-person learning.

But he stopped short of declaring the pandemic over or taking broader steps to ease restrictions like the UK has done. This left people waiting for a more formal sign that Covid has ended, as I noted last week.

In some places, it really feels like the pandemic is over.

Has the Covid already ended in Cape Town?

Although no one is saying it, it does seem like Covid is part of Cape Town’s history.

Officially, this is not the case. But if you want the unofficial answer, just stop at Hotel President Cape Town a weekday afternoon. The property is perched on a hill in trendy Bantry Bay overlooking the stormy Atlantic. At the swimming pool and in the restaurant, no mask in sight. They’ll read your temperature when you walk through the front door, but once you’re inside, you’ll feel like you’re 2019 again.

Hotel general manager Desmond O’Connor says everyone just wants to get back to normal. It’s not good hospitality to patrol the hallways of your hotel and tell people to wear their masks. People, he said, are here on vacation – not to lock themselves up.

“Since the UK lifted its restrictions, we’ve seen other markets follow suit,” he says.

O’Connor says the number one market for his hotel is the UK And when it comes to Britain, Covid is over and it’s time to plan a vacation. His property is receiving a surge of visitors from the UK and to some extent Germany as travel restrictions continue to ease. This compensates for the extreme drop in visits during the omicron surge, when flights to South Africa came to a halt due to the pandemic.

O’Connor says advance bookings are strong, leading him to believe the pandemic may finally be over. And there are other encouraging signs.

Positive signs that Covid-19 has ended

To get an idea of ​​what the end of Covid-19 could look like in South Africa, you have to visit the Oranjezicht City Farmer’s Market early on a Sunday afternoon. It is crowded with residents buying fresh sourdough bread and locally grown vegetables. There are food trucks selling South African chakalaka, a bean dish, and Vietnamese banh mi.

At the front of the market, you will find guards. Last week they took your temperature and offered you a squirt of hand sanitizer. But this week, they beckoned everyone. And once inside, many masks come off.

Just down the street from Atlantic Outlook Kayak ToursJordan Zeelie provides an update on the consequences of omicron.

“In November and December, things started to improve,” says Zeelie, the operations manager. “People are almost fed up with the pandemic.”

Zeelie reports that he set a record for bookings last month as more locals started going out kayaking in the Atlantic and tourists started to return.

“It’s been amazing for us,” he says.

But other traders are still waiting for a rebound.

But the Covid-19 is not over yet

But when will travelers get the green light and when will Covid-19 finally end? At Robben Island Museum, one of Cape Town’s most popular attractions, there is still a long way to go before business picks up again. I spoke with a tour guide who told me it was running at less than half normal capacity. Visitors came from South Africa to see the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. But they are still awaiting the return of international visitors.

Juma Mkwela, who leads art tours in neighboring cantons, is also awaiting the return of his belongings. Before the pandemic, he guided busloads of tourists through townships almost daily; now he has two short tours a week.

“But what’s interesting is that since Covid people have started creating ways to find income – they’re starting new businesses and selling new products,” he told me. In other words, they make the best of the situation and improvise as they go.

I had the same impression when I spoke to Mark Wernich, the general manager of the Taj Cape Town, Last week. Omicron has put a stop to the summer tourist season, which runs from December to March. But now that things are easing up a bit, there is hope that February and March could still be big months.

Wernich was one of many people who told me they hoped the state of the nation address would mark the end of the pandemic in South Africa. This intermediate stage can be an opportunity for international tourists to visit southern Africa when prices are low and occupancy rates are even lower. Normally, you don’t have a destination like Cape Town to yourself, except maybe during the darkest days of winter. But it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, which is usually high season, except this year.

And there is a glimmer of hope that we are close to the end. In his speechPresident Ramaphosa has said he will soon consider lifting the two-year state of emergency.

“We are now ready to enter a new phase in our management of the pandemic,” he said.

When that happens, the South African tourism industry is ready to welcome all the visitors it lost during the omicron surge.

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