In 2014, when the deadly Ebola virus was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo and spread to nearby African countries, the European world took a self-protective stance. They issued a travel ban to the worst-hit countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The result kept rippling for months – flight shutdowns, visa bans, Ebola screening protocols at the airports, and quarantine regimes that affected thousands of travellers from the three West African countries at the heart of the outbreak, as well as Liberia.
Only last week was the Democratic Republic of Congo finally declared Ebola-free.
Now, Congo has placed travel ban with a 14-day self-quarantine rule for all visitors who insisted on coming in from Italy, France, Germany and China. DR Congo cannot be accused of being too careful, after battling with Ebola virus for years.
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It is quite interesting how the tables have turned. Within three months of its discovery, the Coronavirus has spread to over 100 countries majorly in Australia and Europe.
We now have a growing number of African countries imposing restrictions on visits by Europeans, whether for business or tourism.
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There seems to be a rise in fear and suspicion of foreigners almost leading to stigmatization, as Africans are even afraid to do business with them. Even President Trump of the United States has declared and enforced sweeping travel restrictions on 26 European countries.
Despite the less advanced nature of the healthcare system in Africa, the virus seems to be under control. The experience with the Ebola virus, as suggested by experts, had equipped African countries with the experience needed to contain the COVID-19, something the European countries did not have.
In almost all of the African countries, where coronavirus cases have been reported, it was a case of importation by travellers from Italy, France, Germany or other European countries. It is therefore expected, that they should adopt precautions to prevent the figures from rising above the 121 cases reported so far.
Twelve of the 13 cases recorded in South Africa so far had travelled to Europe while the other one was married to one of the travellers. Definitely a reason to place ban restrictions, if you ask the experts.
Uganda has also done the same, placing restrictions on visitors from 16 countries including the much ‘revered’ United States of America and 11 European countries. According to the Ugandan Ministry of Health, anyone who insists on coming should be prepared to be quarantined for at least two weeks.
Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng added that plans were underway to spray disinfectant on all travellers from head to foot, as soon as they disembark from their aircraft. Really extreme moves, as some have described it, but definitely necessary.
The restriction did not go down well with tourists, many of whom have been reported to be resisting the self-quarantine instruction, but it has been enforced anyway.
Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island region of Tanzania, imposed a temporary ban only on all flights coming from Italy. Kenya also banned direct flights from Italy, a move which is again being resisted by tourists.
The largest number of African cases so far has been reported in Egypt, with 67 infected persons. The first case was a visitor from China, and the later outbreak on the Nile River tourist Cruise ship is still yet to be traced.
For countries like Senegal, where no restriction has been placed, the conversation is on already with people blaming the Europeans for importing the virus. It is expected that Senegal will toe the same path soon.
Nigeria has taken the conservative line, refusing to place any travel bans, and instead resorting to conducting screenings at the airports and borders.
In response to the question of whether the government was prioritising the economy over citizens welfare, Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said, “Countries are taking the decision based on their peculiar situations. If the situation calls for it, we will consider it.”
The impact of any travel ban on the economy of the countries is major, as most travellers either bring business or tourism to their guest country. Airlines are greatly hit by these restrictions and some like the Delta Airlines and British Airlines are already announcing temporary sack. Businesses wrapped around the tourism industry are on the low and several others are barely pulling through these times. Stocks have crashed in the last week with recorded losses of billions of naira and dollars for investors. Crude oil prices are on a downward slide.
With the restrictions adding to the current challenges, experts predict that the world might be on a slide to another recession.
But then, is recession the price to be paid in order to stay alive and healthy…