VICE President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Health and Child Care Minister, has declared the country’s three main airports ready to start operating, marking a significant step in reopening the economy.
Cabinet resolved to allow domestic and international flights to resume on September 10 and October 1, respectively.
Zimbabwe’s ports of entry were closed on March 30 to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The reopening of airports is expected to boost tourism, which contributes up to US$1 billion to the country’s economy.
Yesterday, VP Chiwenga toured the country’s three main airports — Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in Harare, Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo Airport in Bulawayo and the Victoria Falls International Airport — to assess their level of preparedness to handle traffic.
All airports have been equipped with the necessary apparatus to fight Covid-19 such as sanitiser booths, temperature checks and disinfection of aircraft before boarding and after passengers have disembarked.
Testing services are available, with service providers at RGM Airport saying results for PCR tests can now be released in just an hour, bringing convenience to travellers.
Speaking after the tour in Harare, VP Chiwenga, who was accompanied by Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu, said he was impressed by the level of preparedness and gave the green light for RGM Airport to start operating.
“We were having this tour to check on the Cabinet decision that we are now going to open our international and domestic airports for both local and international tourism. As we do that, we are going to check on the safety of every passenger or person who is going to pass through our airports,” VP Chiwenga.
“We are now prepared to receive international travellers. I have received a full briefing from the chairman, from CAAZ (Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe), and I am quite satisfied that it is now done. The port authorities and my Ministry of Health are co-ordinating well so that when tourists come here, they will not have any complaints.”
VP Chiwenga gave thumbs up to the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo and the Victoria Falls International Airport to start receiving domestic and international travellers as airlines resume flights.
After the tour in Bulawayo, VP Chiwenga said he was impressed with progress.
“The facilities are good and I am impressed by what I have been briefed by port authorities here, they are now prepared for the reopening of ports for domestic and international travellers. They are one or two things which we have advised them to put in place and are not really an issue,” he said.
VP Chiwenga said airports must ensure that they observe strict guidelines on prevention of the spread of Covid-19.
“I would like all airports to have the same set up so that we don’t have any problems with our domestic travellers and tourists who will be coming or leaving Zimbabwe. We must make sure that they are well looked after and all our health facilities are in place,” he said.
JM Nkomo International Airport manager Mr Passmore Dewa said the airport was expecting domestic flights from tomorrow while international flights will start on October 1.
“I am impressed by the visit to assess our preparedness for the resumption of our scheduled operations from tomorrow for domestic flights and the 1st of October for international flights,” said Mr Dewa.
“We have taken on board comments by the VP and closed certain gaps that are a bit glaring. We will be finalising some of the recommendations by the VP from Monday.”
Mr Dewa said passengers must ensure they have their Covid-19 results and Lancet Laboratories will be on the ground tomorrow (Monday) when flights resume to assess those that will have been suspected to have Covid-19 symptoms by port health officials.
“Lancet Laboratories will immediately come in and test the affected passengers,” he added.
In Victoria Falls, VP Chiwenga warned against laxity in following Covid-19 guidelines prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Government as the pandemic is not yet defeated.
“We are quite satisfied and impressed by the work which has been done by all departments which operate here. Looking at our situation where we had controlled Covid-19, we found it necessary to open but that doesn’t mean that Covid-19 is over and a vaccine has been found.
“We are still with Covid-19 and we will still follow the script given by health officials. Those instructions remain in force and from time to time you will be guided,” said VP Chiwenga.
He said the reopening of airports followed vigorous preparatory work preceded by a visit to the resort town by the inter-Ministerial team and launch of the National Tourism and Growth Strategy by President Mnangagwa at the Rainforest in Victoria Falls last month.
“The reopening of the tourism industry does not signify that the war against Covid-19 has been won. We should continue to strictly adhere to Covid-19 regulations by WHO and our own Government directions,” said VP Chiwenga.
“The purpose is to reopen the industry where employment and everything that goes on here is hospitality industry related. We have a lot of workers who need to be at work and also to reopen the economy.”
He said as the country opens people must not lose focus on the fight against the disease.
“While we receive tourists, we must make sure they are in good health and detected here before they mingle with people. We don’t want people to go and complain in their countries that they came in good health and contracted the virus in Zimbabwe,” he said.
He said Government had to visit the country’s top three international ports of entry because “there is no more time” as the airlines will start flying in this week.
He said all staff at ports of entry should be equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE). Victoria Falls Airport’s port health desk is furnished with screening equipment and eight staffers.
The airport also has an in-house detention centre to be used in the event of a Covid-19 case before the patient is taken to isolation centres in Victoria Falls.
There is also a sanitisation booth at the international terminal which the VP said should, together with the port health desk, also be put on the domestic side.
VP Chiwenga, however, noted a few areas that needed attention and implored the airport authority to make sure they are addressed before tourists start coming.
Senior Government officials, service chiefs and Chief Shana of Jambezi were among those who were present.
Today the VP will visit Hwange Airstrip before going to Bulawayo Kraal in Binga.
Additional reporting by Robin Muchetu in Bulawayo and Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls.