THE tourism industry has breathed a sigh of relief following a move by the government to allow vaccinated tourists to enter the country using their authentic vaccination cards.
Chief executive officer of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) Gitta Paetzold described the decision as a welcome development.
She said Namibia has followed in the footsteps of other leading tourist destinations.
“The timing has also been very important and valuable, as now is the time that international travellers finalise their plans for their annual holidays coming up in July-September and will thus be encouraged to choose Namibia as an open, accessible and welcoming country as their travel destination of choice,” he stated.
Her sentiment came after the government scrapped strict Covid-19 regulations, including the mandatory wearing of face masks and setting aside the requirement for tourists to produce a negative PCR test result upon arrival at Namibian points of entry.
President Hage Geingob announced the relaxed conditions yesterday.
“The abolishment of the mandatory face mask mandate does not mean the abolishment of common sense. On the contrary, common sense must continue to prevail,” Geingob said.
The new regulations come after the World Health Organisation adjusted the outbreak from a pandemic to an endemic disease.
Geingob said the reclassification of the outbreak to endemic should not give citizens a false sense of security.
“We must continue to be vigilant to further control the spread and the upsurge in new cases,” he added.
Geingob also adjusted the number of people allowed in public gatherings from 500 to 1 000.
“A reprieve does not mean the end of the pandemic. We must continue to care for ourselves and the vulnerable members of our society, who are more susceptible, by continuing to protect ourselves so that new clusters of infection do not form,” he said.
Geingob also implored citizens to get vaccinated.
As of yesterday, only 21,4% of the country’s eligible population was fully vaccinated.
“This is one third of the WHO recommended population coverage of 60% to achieve national herd immunity,” Geingob said.
Health minister Kalumbi Shangula says the relaxation of public health measures does not imply that the danger of Covid-19 infection is over.
“People are encouraged to keep on wearing their masks. Let us look at it this way! When it is raining, you do not expect the government to tell you to use your umbrella. You do it out of your own volition because it is a necessity. The same should apply to wearing masks. You are in charge of your own protection and that of the other people around you,” Shangula said.
Shangula said the decision did not consider the forthcoming independence celebrations.
“We will not be influenced by any event whatsoever if that puts the lives of the Namibian people in danger,” he said.
He added that, “Currently, there is a law that if you don’t wear your mask, you’re breaking the law and there are consequences and that is the element we are removing. But still, people are encouraged to wear their masks for their own protection.”
Former health minister Bernard Haufiku said the public was largely not abiding by the regulation of wearing masks or wearing them correctly.
“The only people we are addressing now are those who have been wearing their masks with commitment. I think we need to create an environment where people feel that things don’t just remain bad. The truth is that cases at the moment are not as high as last year,” he said.
The former minister added that a number of people, even though in a minority, have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
“So you have a combination of things here. Low statistics, some have partly vaccine update, most definite strong natural immunity because up to a million Namibians must have been affected by the coronavirus, and that created a sort of natural population immunity, maybe temporarily,” he said, adding that the transmission is not as bad as it was previously.