For anyone wanting to go on an African safari in early 2020 the Coronavirus has upended the table!
As a professional safari planner with over 24 years in the industry the Coronavirus has raised many questions and concerns from current and future. Hopefully the below will help travelers get a better understanding of options during this health emergency.
The below candid thoughts are based on what we have been hearing within the safari / airline / travel industry and from clients. Please don’t take these writings as the final word on a subject. I am not a medical professional nor do I speak for any organization. As I type things are undoubtedly changing.
The Coronavirus is really hitting older folks hard. Fortunately data shows that even among the over 80s, 90% will recover and the mortality rate declines steeply the younger people are. People with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes along with immunocompromised people are at greater risk. Many health officials believe the mortality rate will end up around, or a bit less than, 1%. The World Health Organization’s director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, talked of 3.4%, but his figure was calculated by dividing the number of deaths by the number of officially confirmed cases. There would appear to be many more mild and asymptomatic cases that are not being counted, which would bring the mortality rate significantly down. It sounds like many people didn’t even know they had it or felt it was a cold.
The recommendations to socially distance are suggested to slow the spread so that we don’t overwhelm our health care system. They are not an indication that we are all going to die.
Regarding travel many companies, schools, and governments are advising employees against non essential travel. Many countries, including those in Africa, are closing borders and / or restricting travel from countries such as the USA. Kenya and South Africa are notable examples.
Older travelers (65+) with health conditions and the immuno-compromised appear to be most at risk.
Importantly for those with an upcoming African safari most safari companies are allowing travelers to change plans without penalty for travel within 12 to 18 months. The general stipulations are that you need to rebook the same trip, with the same number of guests, for the same time of year.
Most travel insurers are not covering Coronavirus costs (unless you become sick or quarantined) however are allowing travelers to change the policy dates at no extra cost. Trips interrupted by cancellations may be covered.
Most airlines are severely cutting back routes and dropping fares to low levels to entice travelers… South African Airways has a roundtrip business class fare from New York to Johannesburg at US $4,000 (normally). Economy is just over US $800 roundtrip. It may entice a few adventurous souls to fly – if they are allowed to.
Most airlines are currently allowing travelers set to depart during March / April 2020 to change / rebook without additional fees for travel by end Dec 31, 2020. South African Airways is going further by allowing travel until the end of February 2021 (pretty much in line with air tickets only being able to be booked within 330 days of travel). As we move forward this date may be extended.
Airlines seem to me to be large gatherings of people (unless of course flights are empty)… even so it seems wiping down your seat and nearby surfaces with Clorox wipes and using hand sanitizer should do the trick (unless the person next to you in sick in which case I personally would want to either wear a mask or give my mask to the sick person – yes I have masks… for as much as I travel I have carried them for years). Keep in mind cabin air is filtered through the same HEPA filters used in operating rooms.
Until more testing is done and we have a better idea of how the Coronavirus pandemic is playing out we may see some countries quarantining travelers on arrival.
We are watching closely to see how Coronavirus will affect the African continent where the life expectancy across most countries is much lower than Europe and the USA… will the Coronavirus have less effect on a younger population? Or will the health care system in African countries collapse under additional strain?
How will this end? Perhaps with the northern hemisphere summer and the end of flu season it will slow down and go away… perhaps it will last through the Fall. Will African governments who rely heavily on tourism remove travel restrictions as their June high season approaches (March through May is the long rains in East Africa when many safari camps and lodges close for the season so the travel ban, while damaging, is less impactful to East African economies now than it would be during other times of year).
As we gain more understanding and we see how government bodies respond we will be able to make better decisions based on fact rather than fear.
Stay safe everyone!
Ultimate Africa President
“I first visited Africa in the late 1980s. I came face to face with a wild elephant, and fell in love with being on safari! I made it my goal to create an African travel company that was all about authentic wildlife experiences. Many years later we are one of the top African travel companies in the Americas – known for arranging custom safaris to East and Southern Africa; personal trips, no cookie cutter stuff.”