GOVERNMENT officials and tourism players have urged Victoria Falls residents to debunk skepticism around Covid-19 vaccines as the country prepares to fully re-open the resort city following a complete year without international tourist inflows.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday launched the second phase of the vaccination programme which targets all residents in the city where Zimbabwe recorded its first case of Covid-19 on March 20 last year.
Victoria Falls is the country’s prime tourist destination.
“Here in Victoria Falls, we envisage the vaccination of all eligible residents so that the city is safe to receive visiting tourists,” Mnangagwa said.
“The intensified vaccination exercise should, in turn, pave way for the growth of unlimited tourism activities in the country. Riding on the imminent benefits of our national Covid-19 vaccination programme, I urge stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality industry to act with speed towards positioning Zimbabwe’s tourism sector for growth in the post Covid-19.”
Anald Musonza, chairperson of the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) in Matabeleland North who also heads the Covid-19 response taskforce team in Victoria Falls, said the tourism city has been isolated for too long and the domestic tourism workers have endured unforeseen tough economic turmoil, hence a need for complete re-opening.
“Vaccination is key for us as an industry to restart and give confidence to the international market and also protect ourselves,” Musonza said.
“We have been promised to receive 70 000 Sinopharm vaccinations and the target is to vaccinate everyone in urban and peri-urban settlements so that we prepare to re-open.
“To us, these vaccinations are timely because we want our guests to be safe while even us as tourism players and residents are equally safe so we surely can’t wait to re-open and welcome our visitors even at global level while we ensure that families are able to sustain themselves.”
Findings of a recent study by We Are Victoria Falls, a local hospitality industry initiative, the Covid-19 lockdown has affected 94% of the people employed in the sector.
Musonza’s sentiments were echoed by Matabeleland North’s Provincial Affairs and Devolution minister Richard Moyo.
He said since the advent of the pandemic, the city’s economic activities, like in the rest of the country and the world, had been greatly affected.
“As a province we are hopeful that the launch of the vaccines will boost the tourism sector,” Moyo said.
“Vaccinating the population in Victoria Falls and encouraging Covid-19 adherence measures will give confidence to tourists who visit the city from different parts of the country, region and the world and this is exactly what the country is doing to ensure that all people are protected from the pandemic.”
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the Health and Child Care minister, dismissed the myths around the Chinese, Russian and Indian vaccines the country is currently administering, saying that the inoculations were scientifically approved.
“I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm that the vaccines which were endorsed by your government are safe, so I would like to urge citizens to undertake vaccinations until we achieve a herd immunity of 60% of our population,” Chiwenga told the delegates a few minutes before President Mnangagwa received his first vaccination jab.
“This will see the residents of Victoria Falls being given a chance to be vaccinated and the launch will also open floodgates of unlimited tourism activities in the city which is home to the seven wonders of the world.”
Zimbabwe launched the first phase of its vaccination drive on 18 February with Chiwenga becoming the first citizen to receive China’s Sinopharm vaccine. He received his second jab last Thursday.
This was after Zimbabwe received its first batch of Sinopharm vaccines that were donated by China. Last week, Zimbabwe also took delivery of another batch of Sinopharm vaccines donated by China, and an additional batch of the Sinovac vaccine that it purchased from the same Asian country.
Frontline workers, journalists, port staff and immigration officials were targeted under phase one while the second phase will target teachers and workers in the tourism and tobacco industry, among others.
Zimbabwe is targeting to vaccinate 60% of its population, to achieve herd immunity..