Your African Safari – Covid19 Update

Dear Ultimate Africa Clients,

 

As the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve we are working diligently to stay updated in this changing environment, and to be sensitive to the needs of all our guests, our staff, and the many safari camps and lodges that support / finance the rural communities and wildlife of Africa.

 

If you are concerned about your travel plans, please call us at 1 800 461 0682. We are working with each traveler on a case-by-case basis and are here to help you make well-informed decisions.

 

November 28, 2021 Omicron Variant Update:

 

Malawi now requiring vaccine to enter. Kenya likely to follow suit next week.

 

Omicron now detected in Netherlands, Denmark, Australia.

 

South Africa to remain at Level 1, the lowest level of Covid restrictions, within the country… they are considering mandatory vaccination and they do currently have surplus supply.
 
Level 1: Travel fully allowed. Masks must be worn. Curfew 12AM to 4AM. Travelers who need to travel to or from the airport during curfew hours must carry a valid boarding pass for airline ticket. The following places must close by 11PM: cinemas, theaters, casinos, museums, galleries, public swimming pools, beaches and parks, gyms, restaurants and bars, sports venues etc.

 

As of late morning we have confirmation that British Airways will resume direct flights with Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa on November 30, 2021. Virgin will fly as well.

 

As of this morning we are getting word that British Airways and Virgin will resume flights to South Africa on December 5, 2021. 

 

November 27, 2021 Omicron Variant Update:

 

9PM Update Until further notice, Emirates is temporarily suspending passenger operations to and from South Africa (Johannesburg, Durban Cape Town), Zimbabwe (Harare) and Zambia (Lusaka). 

 

8PM Update South African doctor who reported Omicron in patients says symptoms were milder than her other patients and there was no loss of taste or smell… other scientists are saying Omicron goes back to May 2021…

 

As of this afternoon in a CNN interview: Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, said “Yeah, it’s likely here in the USA” and continued “we’ve not seen any evidence that Omicron produces more severe disease than any of the other variants.”

 

As of this morning Omicron has been detected in the UK, Germany, Italy, and the Czech republic (in addition to Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong, and South Africa). Our feeling is we will find Omicron in quite a few more countries over the next several days. What a shame for South Africa doing the genetic leg work and being isolated while other countries have the same variant.

 

Reading the tea leaves there are a good number of scientists and doctors saying Omicron may be more transmissible but not cause more severe illness… and most are saying vaccines will likely be effective in preventing severe outcomes.

 

We are also hearing chatter that many of the travel restrictions are temporary (temporary is relative). Several airlines are saying they have cancelled flights for a few days or up to 2 weeks… of course these cancellations could very easily be extended… again everyone is waiting for more expert study.

 

Rwanda has re-instated its requirement that all travelers must stay at their hotel upon arrival until their arrival test results are received. Previously the rule was vaccinated travelers could continue with their arrangements while awaiting results.

 

November 26, 2021 Omicron Variant Update:

 

Update 4PM Delta Airlines says it will continue its Atlanta to South Africa service despite the variant. Qatar Airways, who did not stop service during the pandemic, will continue to service Southern Africa. However they will only fly guests into southern Africa, not out. “Passengers who are booked on Qatar Airways flights from airports in Angola, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique including Johannesburg (JNB), Capetown (CPT), Durban (DUR), Luanda (LAD), Maputo (MPM), Lusaka (LUN), and Harare (HRE), will not be accepted for travel until further notice,” Qatar said.

 

Update 11:40AM From latest South African press conference:  MAC member Professor Ian Sanne says there is every indication to say that vaccines are effective on the new variant and South African Minister of Health Phaahla stresses that the scientists’ found that there is no “suggestion at this stage” that this variant will create severe illnesses. He says he wants to “emphasize the fact” that, at this stage, scientists found no evidence that the variant is more transmissible.

 

Update 10:00AM Regarding news of the new Omicron Covid variant appearing in Botswana, South Africa, Belgium, Israel, Egypt, and Hong Kong we are watching things closely and I imagine we will learn much more over the next week or so…

 

Right now, the biggest concern seems to be travel restrictions and cancelled flights.

 

The UK has put South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe on their travel Red List. 

 

From what we understand BA has cancelled flights to southern Africa for the next several days but of course this could very well continue. The UK has been the hardest destination to fly through the past 2 years with, by an enormous measure, the most cancelled flights.

 

The United Arab Emirates suspended inbound flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 variants. Outbound flights will still operate. We are seeking guidance on travelers transiting through Dubai or Qatar, but not entering. Having been through this earlier in the year some travelers may fly into Johannesburg and then change their flights to depart from Lusaka, Zambia aboard Emirates… thus avoiding South Africa on the return. This may require 14 days between being in South Africa and departing.

 

Qatar Airways, who did not stop service during the pandemic, will continue to service Southern Africa. However they will only fly guests into South Africa and Zimbabwe, not out. “Passengers who are booked on Qatar Airways flights from airports in either country, including Johannesburg (JNB), Capetown (CPT), Durban (DUR), and Harare (HRE), will not be accepted for travel until further notice,” Qatar said.

 

The United States will re-implement the ban on South Africans visiting the USA (was in place until November 8, 2021) and will now include Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe as well. This will not apply to US citizens and lawful permanent residents who may travel to these countries, and return home, without restrictions.

 

Delta Airlines has said it will continue flying Atlanta to South Africa.

 

Foreign nationals who have travelled through southern Africa in the past 14 days won’t be allowed into Canada. Those countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. “Most likely this virus is already in other places. And so if we shut the door now, it’s going to be probably too late,” said Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong. During a news conference, Tam told reporters it wouldn’t be surprising if Omicron was already in Canada.

 

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will face a new requirement upon returning home. Because there are no direct flights between southern Africa and Canada, most travelers transit through airports in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. Travelers will need have a PCR test in the country they connect through on their way to Canada (this can often be done in an airport but a rapid test takes no fewer than 2 hours). Then, after landing in Canada, inbound travelers must also get an arrival test and wait for the results at a designated hotel. If the test is negative, those returning travelers would be released to quarantine for a mandatory 14 days at home. They also would be required to go through a so-called “day 8” test on the 8th day of quarantine.

 

As to health concerns there were 6 cases of the variant in Botswana (Botswana said 4 of the cases were in diplomatic travelers who have left, without saying where they came from) and 77 cases in South Africa (out of 60 million people) – at this time. There were also cases in Hong Kong, Israel, and Belgium making a total of 87 and 2 more possible in Israel. Interestingly there is no talk of illness or death related to these cases… 

 

Cape Town, popular with travelers, makes up 5% of total Covid cases in South Africa.

 

Keeping in mind vaccines have been very effective against all variants so far and we are still talking about Covid (which has a death rate of 1.6%, similar to malaria, compared to say Mers at 34% and Ebola with a death rate of 50% to 80%)… it is mostly a disease of the unvaccinated and if someone becomes sick most severe outcomes are in the elderly and those with comorbidities.

 

Right now, in South Africa 45% of the adult population is vaccinated, and 42 out of 100,000 people are Covid + (mostly in Johannesburg area)… so visiting is like saying you went to a sporting event and 4 people in the stadium had Covid (although that is not entirely correct as you are not entering a stadium without any controls). Everyone has to test negative to fly and to enter each country and all safari / hotel staff and guides are vaccinated and regularly tested…

 

In Botswana rates are dropping with 22 out of 100,000 Covid positive over the past week… they are at 3% of their last peak.

 

If you are vaccinated and wearing a mask, risks are small at this time.

 

As a comparison Michigan, in the USA, is recording 87 cases per 100,000 people.

 

As of mid November 2021 

 

Despite dire predictions Africa has handled Covid very well (see graphic below). Over 670 million vaccine doses have been purchased.

Your African Safari – Covid19 Update

 

In South Africa, where Covid has been easily the worst in Africa, they have started vaccinations and cases declined 95% by April from their early January 2021 peak… since that time cases peaked again and are now down 98% from the early July peak. In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe 77% of the adult population has been vaccinated. Botswana has secured enough  vaccines for their entire adult population. In Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia tourism workers are considered essential when it comes to vaccine eligibility and most are vaccinated. More specifically, Wilderness Safaris, one of Africa’s largest safari operators, have already vaccinated  most of their staff in Namibia, Rwanda, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia… and smaller companies such as Lemala are saying the same! 

 

Regarding variants Dr. Fauci noted January 25, 2021: “There is a very slight, modest diminution in the efficacy of a vaccine against Covid variants, but there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective.” 

 

A quick note on vaccine efficacy: A 95% efficacy doesn’t mean 5% of vaccinated people get infected. When a vaccine has a 95% efficacy it means your chance of contracting the disease drops by 95%.  As an example before vaccines if 1% out of 100,000 people got Covid that would be 1,000 cases. After the vaccine, that 1% is reduced by 95% and now only .0005% of the population is expected to get sick – 50 people. 

 

Breakthrough infections, resulting in hospitalization and death, can occur… they tend to happen more in older people and those with compromised immune systems.

 

The latest research shows that close to 35% of all Covid cases are asymptomatic – more so in children and less so as people age.

 

Regarding safaris – all African safari countries are open, the camps and lodges have great protocols in place, and in most camps staff and guides have been vaccinated  (never mind that a safari is a great social distancing vacation and does so much good for the planet), travel insurance is treating Covid like any other medical issue / illness (see note below), there are no quarantine requirements to enter countries, all travelers flying to Africa must provide a negative Covid test to board their flight, most camps and lodges are requiring all guests, and staff, to provide negative tests upon arrival, and testing can be done at many safari camps and lodges as well.

 

As of yet testing requirements have not fallen away for vaccinated travelers or those who can provide evidence of recovering from a Covid infection. We do however expect Covid passports, at some future point, and these may alleviate testing requirements.

 

With every changing requirements we will advise all travelers of Covid tests needed before, and during travel, approximately 4 to 6 weeks prior to departure. Testing at lodges and camps can cost several hundred dollars per person as a nurse often needs to flown out to take samples. Testing in cities such as Nairobi, Cape Town, and Victoria Falls is typically under US $100 per person.

 

With regards to travel insurance most policies cover Covid under medical just as any other medical condition would be. This means if you test positive before travel you should be able to cancel your arrangements (please note you must be under a doctor’s care), and if you became sick while traveling hospital costs should be covered. Please note coverage for Trip Interruption / Delay and / or Medical Expense benefits requires a confirmed diagnosis and proof of illness from a physician – again you would need to be under a doctor’s care.

 

If a traveler were to test positive for Covid in Africa, which may still occur even after vaccination as no vaccines offer 100% protection, they would most likely be quarantined in a bed and breakfast, hotel, or even at safari camps at their own expense… there are no government run Covid quarantine facilities for tourists that we are aware of. Trip Interruption / Delay  and / or Medical Expense travel insurance coverage may partially cover missed travel arrangements or quarantine costs due to a positive test – please contact your travel insurance provider for specific details. For additional peace of mind travelers may purchase a Covid Evacuation membership from CovacGlobal. Their motto is “Get Sick. Get Home” from anywhere in the world – you only need to have received a positive test and self report one symptom such as a headache. Please note CovacGlobal would get you home however would not cover costs for lost travel arrangements  (travel insurance requires a traveler to be under a doctor’s care).

 

For guests contemplating postponing their arrangements most suppliers are asking travelers to wait until 60 days prior to their trip to assess the situation, and no fewer than 30 days to reach a final decision. In cases where postponement is allowed, to the following year as an example, most suppliers are charging applicable rates. Please note that postponing your travel arrangements due to Covid does not reset the cancellation penalty timeline.

 

Botswana: fully open / present a negative RT-PCR test result, not older than 72 hours before you arrive. Upon arrival travelers may receive a Rapid Antigen test free of charge.

 

Kenya – fully open / present a negative RT-PCR test carried out within 96 hours before arrival – starting from date of sample collection. PCR test required to depart.

 

Malawi – fully open / present a negative RT-PCR test taken within 3 days of arrival. Vaccine required.

 

Mozambique – fully open / present a negative RT-PCR test taken within 3 days of arrival.

 

Namibia – fully open / present a negative RT-PCR not older than 7 days at time of arrival. Namibia will also accept authentic de-isolation certificates from previously infected travelers who are still testing positive with the RT-PCR test at the Points of Entry, regardless of nationality. The certificate has to be valid for at least three (3) months from the time of issuance. This applies to travelers who present vaccination certificates only. There is a curfew between 11PM and 4AM. Alcohol is allowed between 9AM and 10PM at restaurants and hotels.

 

Rwanda – fully open / all travelers arriving in to, and departing from, Rwanda must test negative RT-PCR test within 3 days of departure (meaning that you get tested and get results no more than 3 days before your first flight). Additional RT-PCR test upon arrival in Kigali and wait at hotel up to 24 hours for results… a negative RT-PCR test, taken within 72 hours before the visit, is required for all primate visits in Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe National Park and Gishwati Mukura National Park. A negative Rapid Antigen (or RT-PCR) test, taken within 72 hours before the visit, is required for all other activities in the above National Parks and Akagera National Park. There is an 11PM to 4AM curfew. Additional test before departure flight.

 

South Africa – Fully open / present a negative RT-PCR test result, not older than 72 hours before boarding your first flight. South Africa on lowest level of restrictions – restaurants / bars open, masks required in public. Please note many airlines are not following the South African requirement and will not let you board unless you have a test result that will be within 72 hours of your arrival in South Africa. As of November 29, 2021 the USA will re-implement a ban on South Africans visiting the USA (was in place until November 8, 2021). This will not apply to US citizens and lawful permanent residents who may travel to South Africa, and return home, without restrictions.

 

Tanzania – fully open / present a negative PCR / NAAT based COVID-19 test taken within 4 days of arrival. Travelers will be subject to a Rapid Antigen test upon arrival – payable direct US $10.

 

Uganda – fully open / present a negative PCR based COVID-19 test carried out within 3 days before boarding in bound flight to Uganda. Additional PCR test must be taken upon arrival (even if fully vaccinated) and within 3 days of departing.

 

Zambia – fully open / present a negative PCR based COVID-19 carried out within 3 days of arrival. If arriving from a high risk Covid country, such as South Africa, non vaccinated travelers will need to quarantine. Vaccinated travelers will need to show proof of completing vaccination and can bypass quarantine. Negative Covid test to depart the country.

 

Zimbabwe – fully open / present a negative PCR test taken within 2 days of arrival. The Kazungula border between Zimbabwe and Botswana, and the Victoria Falls Bridge border between Zimbabwe and Zambia are allowing road transfers in both directions, on the proviso that for entry INTO Zimbabwe, the traveler has both a vaccination certificate (fully vaccinated) and a negative RT-PCR test result. If 17 years of age or younger, a vaccination certificate is not required but a negative RT-PCR test is still mandatory. Unvaccinated travelers may only cross land borders into Zimbabwe when in transit, however, they may still fly into Zimbabwe and exit by road. Zimbabwe has a nationwide curfew from 10PM to 5:30AM which may effect visitors to Victoria Falls. Safari camps and lodges are operating as per normal.

 

IMPORTANT: The above Covid notes and testing requirements are subject to change at any time. We recommend reaching out to the relevant embassies and airlines for the latest information. We cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies in the above information.

 

IMPORTANT: Even vaccinated travelers can test positive for Covid. Most doctors still advise avoiding crowded indoor environments and wearing N95 masks when around others. 

 

Stay well,

 

Ian Proctor
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.”

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