Christmas is not so cheerful, but optimism blooms eternally throughout East Africa.
East Africans are celebrating Christmas with a gloomy cloud of the fast-spreading Omicron Covid variety, political restrictions, and financial strain from pandemic impacts hovering over them.
From vaccination requirements to travel inconveniences and curfews; growing transportation and consumer goods costs; and the start of the school year in January, residents are forced to choose between austerity and fun as Omicron infection levels increase, despite a decline in hospitalizations and fatalities from Covid-19.
This will be Rwandans’ second Christmas under a curfew, with no gatherings, live music, or clubs permitted. Except for Uganda, the remainder of the area has curfew-free celebrations.
Uganda is still under a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by President Yoweri Museveni in March 2020 to stop the spread of the coronavirus, so this year’s festivities will be subdued.
In response to a new wave of viral infections, Kigali officials enforced a 10 p.m. curfew, stopped popular public sports, and declared a car-free day on Saturday, as part of additional Covid-19 restrictions.
“Everyone is urged to be careful and avoid large gatherings since Covid-19 remains a concern,” municipal officials said Friday. Only three days after Cabinet halted nightclubs, concerts, and live band entertainment and reinstated remote working guidelines for workers, the Prime Minister’s office declared “further steps to limit future spread of the virus.”
In a statement, Rwandan Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente stated, “The Ministry of Health may temporarily restrict public or private locations with recognized clusters of persons infected with Covid-19.”
While pubs, restaurants, and all services performed at houses of worship are permitted, the number of people they may accommodate is limited, and “in Kigali and secondary cities, all customers and attendees must be properly vaccinated.” “The event’s organizers will be penalized for failing to comply with health regulations,” Mr. Ngirente stated.
Thousands of Kenyans rushed to bus terminals, despite the shroud of uncertainty and severe government measures, to travel to their rural communities for the celebrations, enjoying a restriction-free Christmas compared to the previous year, when they experienced Christmas under lockdown.
President Uhuru Kenyatta removed mobility restrictions into and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area in July, setting the stage for the conditional restoration of public service vehicle operations, which had been banned since March 2020 to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Buses to different upcountry sites in Nairobi were completely booked ahead of Christmas as city dwellers prepared to go to their rural homes to celebrate with their relatives. On early reservations, airlines have hiked rates from Nairobi to Mombasa ahead of Christmas. In the next few days, ticket costs are projected to climb much further.
Flights from Nairobi to Mombasa are almost completely booked, with the remaining tickets costing $160, up from an average of $64.18 in November. In response to the growing demand for air travel, airlines have expanded the number of flights to popular locations.
From December 20 to January 9, Jambojet, a subsidiary of Kenya Airways, increased Mombasa flights to 56 times a week, up from 48. The airline is now flying to Malindi 22 times per week from its headquarters in Nairobi, up from 18 flights before. It now travels to Ukunda 20 times per week, up from 14 times before, indicating a huge demand for internal flights.
Kenya Railways expanded passenger capacity on the Standard Gauge Railway train between Nairobi and Mombasa to meet increasing demand over the holiday season. The number of coaches for economy class passengers has been raised from eight to eleven.
First-class customers received an extra unit from the two coaches that were in service. The additional coaches will improve capacity until January 6, 2022. The Madaraka Express train is completely booked for the Christmas season, according to the reservations registry.
However, for Kenyans, a new vaccination requirement will be imposed, particularly for those wishing to enter public venues like as parks, hotels and restaurants, clubs, domestic flights, trains, and PSVs, dampening festivities for millions who are still unvaccinated. In order to avoid a court decision that barred the government from requiring a vaccination certificate, the Health Ministry has announced that it would now use the Public Health Act.
Passengers traveling north for the Christmas and New Year holidays in Tanzania have had to dig deeper into their wallets as rates have risen. Those traveling to Kilimanjaro and Arusha in the northern tourist circuit were the most hit, paying $23 for a one-way ticket, up from $13.5.
Mwita Waitara, Deputy Transport Minister, has asked the Land Transport Regulatory Authority (Latra) to oversee the sale of tickets to potential passengers. Mr Waitara said that the government would re-enforce its decision to create an electronic ticketing system as a permanent solution to relieve unilateral fee rises in the future.
“The e-ticketing system will be implemented in April 2022 to reduce bus ticketing fraud,” he stated.
Gilliard Ngewe, director of Latra, said that the transport regulatory authorities are now requiring the deployment of e-ticketing in order to limit passenger exploitation by transport operators.
Various tourist players have options for folks who do not want to go. Tanzania National Parks has already given discounts in an effort to entice domestic visitors.
Tanzania Wildlife Authority, in collaboration with safari businesses, has also organized vacation packages for the celebrations, which are expected to lure residents to spend the holiday in nature and conservation areas. Mpanga – Kipengele Nature Reserve in the southern highlands and Kilwa Historical Site on the southern shore have both organized special trips.
According to Tanzania Association of Tour Operators Executive Secretary Siril Akko, tourist mobility in northern Tanzania has been regular as businesses continue to attract more visitors.