THE CORONAVIRUS IN TANZANIA – AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOUR KILIMANJARO PLANS

Read on to find out the latest information from Tanzania, and how it could impact your plans to climb Kilimanjaro.

(NB: For the latest news on Kilimanjaro and COVID-19/coronavirus, please read our ‘updates’ at the bottom of this page.)

This last week we’ve received a slew of emails from both climbers who have already booked with us, and those who are thinking of doing so, all on the same theme: the coronavirus.

COVID-19 (to give it its proper title) has of course swept across the globe and new developments are occurring every day

Currently, there are no reported cases in East Africa. That’s not to say that nobody has contracted the virus in the region; just that there have been no confirmed cases.

To their credit, the Tanzanian authorities are not sitting idly by, and are in the process of installing 140 thermal scanners at airports and other points of entry in the country, to try to detect anyone bringing the virus into the country.

In addition, in places – including Arusha – there is also a Mobile Lab that tests for suspected coronavirus infections. This lab can move around the country so if there is an outbreak in one region, the mobile lab can be deployed there to help with the diagnosing.

What’s happening on Kilimanjaro?

In our experience, everything is currently continuing unchanged – at least at the moment. People are still booking climbs up Kilimanjaro, and people are still turning up to climb it. It’s true that enquiries are a little lower at the moment, but whether the virus is behind this small decline is uncertain. Because bookings often drop off in March. Most people book their treks at the beginning of the year, in January and, to a slightly lesser extent, February, and while we are still taking bookings throughout the year, it’s certainly quieter after the rush of those two months.

But other than that, the virus has had minimal impact on the Tanzanian tourist industry.

On the mountain itself, things are continuing as normal too. Like many other companies, we encourage both our climbers and their crews to use the hand sanitizers we provide frequently, and of course that’s even more important now. And I suppose in one sense you could say that Kilimanjaro is an unlikely place to contract the virus, given the minimal skin-to-skin contact, with most people wrapped up against the cold for a lot of the time.

What about the future?

Of course, the situation in Tanzania does have the capacity to get a whole lot worse. As anybody who has visited East Africa recently, and seen the large-scale road programmes and other large architectural project that are funded by China, where the virus was first detected, it is probably only a matter of time before the virus hits the country.

It’s also worth noting that those who have a financial interest in predicting the effect of the virus, have already taken steps to protect themselves. Insurance companies, for example, have explicitly excluded cover for the virus since the beginning of the year.

So what should you do if you want to climb Kilimanjaro?

Of course, planning to climb Kilimanjaro over the next few months could be a great decision. With people staying away out of fear, it will perhaps ensure that the mountain is much less busier and less crowded than normal – which is the number one complaint about the mountain from climbers, particularly those on popular trails such as the Machame and Marangu Routes.

So if you’re not put off by all the uncertainty surrounding the virus and its potential impact on travel in general, then you could have a wonderful time.

But even if you aren’t putting off booking your trek, there are a few sensible rules to follow. The first thing to do, obviously, is monitor the situation closely – both in your home country and in East Africa.

In our opinion, the best thing is to strike a balance between getting properly organised for his trip – while being flexible enough to change plans if circumstances force you to do so.

The most difficult thing to be flexible about is the flights. If there’s a way for you to reserve a flight without paying in full for it, then that would be best . I’m not sure if this is really possible anymore. But if you find a way of paying just a deposit, or, even better, reserving a seat without paying anything, that’s the best solution.

Otherwise, you can be fairly flexible with your plans. One word of advise is to pay closer attention to the cancellation policies of the ground operators than you would normally. Obviously, if you can find a company with a generous cancellation policy, that would be ideal.

This is the policy we follow at Kilimanjaro Experts, which at least gives you something to compare other companies’ policies against:

“If you need to cancel your trek for whatever reason, providing you do so at least two months prior to departure you will receive a refund for the full amount paid less the US$250 per person deposit we charge to reserve your trek and any safari deposit you have paid. We need to charge this fee to cover their costs.

However, if, instead of cancelling your trek, you merely wish to postpone it, then any payments you have made (whether you have merely made a deposit payment or have already paid the full balance) will be passed on to this new trek – so, as long as we have had enough warning, you lose nothing.”

In other words, you can book with us, safe in the knowledge that, if you need to postpone because of the impact of the virus, you can rebook at a later date and you won’t lose any money

Summary

As we said at the start of this piece, the situation regarding the virus is changing constantly. And in a week’s time, all the above information and advice could be obsolete. So in all probability we’ll be either amending this article, or writing an entirely new one to update you on the situation, over the coming weeks and months. As usual, we’ll be letting everyone know if we do this on social media, or just visit the website from time to time to see what the latest information is. And hopefully, in the coming months, the virus will disappear and we’ll all be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Hopefully, anyway!

UPDATES ON KILIMANJARO AND CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19

16 March 2020 

The main development over the past few days has been the announcement on Friday that the United States decision to ban non-Americans travelling from Europe from entering their country.

This will obviously have a negative effect on the flight timetable between the two regions, and this, of course, will eventually impact those from North America who are flying via Europe to Tanzania. In our experience, this would cover about 90% of Americans who are due to climb Kilimanjaro, as most people fly to Tanzania via Amsterdam with with KLM (and their partner Delta Airlines). So it certainly pays to keep an eye on the latest situation and how it could affect your travel plans.

The other main development has been the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in East Africa. The poor individual is Kenyan and had recently been travelling to America via London. The information was disclosed on Friday, though since then two other confirmed cases have since been announced. In response, the authorities closed all schools in Kenya on Sunday for the foreseeable future.

Tanzania, which has yet to have a confirmed case, has been less drastic in its response to the arrival of COVID-19 in East Africa, though it has canceled flights to India and suspended school games.  Isolation centres have also been established in many parts of the country. Thermometers have also been stockpiled, and over 2,000 health workers have received extra training.

UPDATE: 17 March 2020

Yesterday afternoon Tanzania has just confirmed its first case of coronavirus.

The 46-year-old woman had arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport JRO feeling fine. Though she was screened at the airport, she showed no symptoms and was given the all-clear.

However, she later fell ill in her hotel room in Arusha. It transpires that she had been visiting relatives in Belgium, one of whom had the virus.

Samples were taken from her and sent to Dar es Salaam for testing, which confirmed the presence of COVID-19.

The victim has been in isolation ever since, and is said to be improving.

Tanzania’s Health Minister, Ummy Mwalimu, who broke the news, later urged Tanzanian citizens to take precautions against spreading the infection, and to contact their nearest health centre if they start to show any signs of the disease.

UPDATE: 19 March 2020

Two more patients have tested positive for coronavirus in Tanzania, bringing the total number of cases in the country to three.

The two new cases are both foreign nationals, one from the US and one from Germany. According to the country’s prime minister, Kassim Majaliwa, they were staying on Zanzibar and in Dar es Salaam.

The annual Uhuru Torch Race, which celebrates the country’s independence, has also been postponed until the outbreak is contained.

UPDATE: 20 March 2020

We posted this on the Climb Mount Kilimanjaro facebook page yesterday evening. It could be of great relevance to many Kilimanjaro climbers as KLM are the most frequent (and reliable) carrier serving Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO):

Just had this informative email from KLM, the main carrier for flights to Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO), especially from North America and Northern Europe:

“Got travel plans or have you already booked flights, but doubting whether your trip will go ahead? KLM would like to offer you a helping hand by temporarily introducing the option to change your ticket without a change fee. You can change the period in which you choose to fly as well as the destination. The costs of any fare differences will remain applicable.”

Further clarification on this policy is available on their website:

“Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, we’ve been monitoring the situation minutely and are doing everything possible to assist you with your upcoming travel plans. 

We highly recommend making use of the self-service options to change your flight or request a voucher. You can do so until 30 September 2020, so you can rest assured you can travel at a later date. For detailed information and conditions, scroll down and review the rebook policies below.

Of course, we’re doing what we can to help you as quickly as possible but waiting times at the KLM Customer Contact Centre are long. Please do not go to your departure airport if your flight is not confirmed to depart, because our agents at the airport won’t be able to answer your questions at this moment.”

You can find out more specific information on their website at the coronavirus and KLM page.

Number of coronavirus cases rises in Tanzania

The other main corona-related news for today is that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tanzania now stands at six. The latest casualties are two Tanzanian nationals from Dar es Salaam who had travelled abroad in the past fortnight.

Porter meetings postponed

KPAP, the organisation that looks after the welfare of porters, has postponed its annual meeting where they meet up with porters to discuss their work and listen to the porters’ grievances.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: 23 March 2020

In a statement from the Tanzanian government that was released over the weekend, all visitors from today will be required to be tested for the coronavirus when they arrive and will then be required to quarantine themselves for 2 weeks at their own expense. The statement was issued by the Tanzanian president himself, John Magafuli.

In effect, this of course means that all treks up Kilimanjaro are pretty much suspended until further notice.

Furthermore, Kenya has announced a total and indefinite ban for international passenger flights beginning 25 March.

We will be contacting those who are due to trek with us in June to see when you would like to rebook your treks. 

Hopefully, of course, in a month or two the pandemic will be over, life will be returning to normal and people will be climbing Kilimanjaro once more. But we can’t see this happening anytime soon and certainly those in June should look to rebook their trip for later in the year or 2021.

Just to reiterate, those lucky people who booked their trip with us will not lose anything if they rebook with us. We’ll just put any money you’ve already paid towards your new booking. Only if you cancel your trip altogether will you lose your deposit. If you are unable to choose a new date right now, don’t worry. Just let us know that you are postponing the trip, and we’ll keep all your money safe and put it towards your new trip, when you are able to rearrange one.

UPDATE: 31 March 2020

Tanzania has recorded its first death from coronavirus. A local man, aged 49 and with underlying health conditions, died on Monday.
The number of confirmed cases of the disease has risen by another two, bringing the total to 19. There are, of course, assumed to be many more people with the infection who haven’t been diagnosed.

UPDATE: 19 April 2020

To summarise what’s happened in the last couple of weeks: firstly, as at April 17th there have been 147 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Tanzania, with five deaths. How reliable these figures are remains to be seen, though there is no doubt that the governments prompt and pretty comprehensive actions have helped to limit both the number of cases and the number of deaths due to the virus.
Over the past fortnight the Tanzanian government has introduced  further measures to limit the spread of the disease. On April 11th they suspended ALL international scheduled and charter passenger planes to and from Tanzania. In other words, the only way to enter the country at the present time is by land or sea.
Furthermore, as reported on 23 March, visitors who do enter Tanzania are compelled to spend 14 days in quarantine at their own expense. There have since been reports that the facilities for those who are in quarantine are described as being ‘very poor’, and some have said that the quarantine itself could cause health problems that are unrelated to the virus due the very poor hygiene standards in the facilities.
If you manage to get out of the facilities with your health intact, you will still be required to register personal information for future tracking purposes.

UPDATE: 5 May 2020

The Tanzanian government’s response to coronavirus has been under increasing scrutiny over the past couple of days.

Previously, it had been praised for its no-nonsense approach to travellers trying to enter the country.As we reported in April, anyone who has does manage to reach Tanzania (and with the suspension of international flights that is no longer easy!) is required to self-isolate for a fortnight at their own expense.

But within the country the situation is more mixed. It’s true that schools are closed, sporting and social activities are not allowed, and restaurants are allowed to sell only takeaway food.

But markets are still operating, the parliament is still sitting, and the port of Dar es Salaam is still open for business.

Perhaps most crucially of all, religious gatherings in churches and mosques have not been banned. Indeed, the president, a devout Catholic, has said that people should still attend places of worship to find true healing.

Unfortunately, social distancing at these places is, of course, almost impossible to adhere to.

Footage of secretive night-time burials of victims of the virus also call into question the government’s honesty about the impact that COVID-19 is having on the country, particularly when official figures state that there have only been 480 coronavirus cases and 16 deaths in Tanzania.

Though the government has promised to stop these burials, it has caused many observers to wonder whether the true scale of the disease is being hidden.

The credibility of the government took another hit earlier this month when the president announced that he is going send a plane to Madagascar to import a herbal tonic, Covid-Organics, even though there has been no evidence that the tonic is in any way beneficial.

For more details on the situation in Tanzania, the BBC has written a decent report that you can find by following this link. They also have an audio article that looks specifically at the Tanzanian president’s handling of the coronavirus crisis

What’s the latest on Kilimanjaro? 

The travel restrictions into the country have of course meant that the mountain and national parks are pretty much empty at the moment. However, as we’ve reported before this is not unusual for this time of year.

April and May are usually the wettest months of the year as the long rains sweep in off the Indian Ocean, so treks at this time of year are few in number.

However, many responsible trek operators recognise that this situation could continue for many months, causing great hardship to those many locals – the mountain crews – who make a living from the mountain.

For our own part, we have rented some land outside Arusha that our mountain crews can farm in order to grow crops to eat and sell. We have also received some very generous donations from our climbers. We are, of course, very very grateful for these unsolicited gifts which we’ll be putting to good use to help our crews through the next few months.

UPDATE: 14 May 2020

The US Embassy has warned that Tanzania could experience exponential growth in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The warning has come at a time when Tanzania is refusing to provide any updates on the situation in the country.

Despite various measures to prevent the spread of the virus, much of life in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere in Tanzania continues as normal. with markets, mosques, churches, bars and restaurants all open as normal.

The embassy also states that hospitals are Dar are actually overwhelmed by coronavirus cases, and that the chances of catching the virus are actually very high.

For their part, the Tanzanian government has said that health officials are exaggerating the situation, and has encouraged people to continue attending religious services to help ‘vanquish’ the virus.