Travel industry despair at new uncertainty caused by super-mutant variant

Travel industry despair at new uncertainty caused by super-mutant variant
Travel industry despair at new uncertainty caused by super-mutant variant

The travel industry was today wracked with despair at the new uncertainty caused by the super-mutant Botswana variant, with the mayor of tourism-dependent Cape Town slamming the 'rushed' announcement to the world. 

Health chiefs in the country hastily called a news conference on Thursday to announce the new B.1.1.529 variant was driving soaring infections - accounting for around 90 percent of all cases in just a matter of weeks. 

It has caused a staggering rise in infections, with the 7-day average for daily cases standing at 1,000 on Thursday - a 262 per cent increase on the week before.

Just hours after it was announced, Britain barred all flights from South Africa, and a slew of countries have followed suit, including France, Germany, Italy, Israel and Singapore. 

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis slammed South Africa's Covid experts for making the announcement, saying that the country's tourism industry had been dealt a 'crushing blow.' 

The news comes at a crucial juncture for travel firms around the world as people look ahead to the Christmas holidays - and fears over the new variant have already spooked the market.

Shares in British Airways parent IAG, German carrier Lufthansa and aircraft maker Airbus dropped about 10 per cent on Friday. 

Travel expert Paul Charles tweeted: 'The UK Government have again created a pre-Xmas lottery for travellers by saying they will review the red list in three weeks.

'Few will risk their bookings and will now assume they won't be able to travel to the six countries affected during the festive period.' 

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis (pictured on September 30) has slammed the government's response to the new Covid variant, saying it will 'crush' the tourism industry

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis (pictured on September 30) has slammed the government's response to the new Covid variant, saying it will 'crush' the tourism industry

Travel expert Paul Charles tweeted: 'Few will risk their bookings and will now assume they won't be able to travel to the six countries affected during the festive period.'

Travel expert Paul Charles tweeted: 'Few will risk their bookings and will now assume they won't be able to travel to the six countries affected during the festive period.'

No cases have been detected in the UK so far but everyone who has returned from South Africa in the past 10 days will be contacted and asked to take a test.

FTSE slides amid renewed Covid fears 

The dramatic Covid developments sparked jitters on stock markets today.

More than £65billion was wiped off the value of FTSE 100 companies after the index opened.

The 250 point tumble put it on track for the steepest one-day drop in a year.

Shares in major airlines were hit hard, with IAG, the owner of British Airways, falling more than 21 per cent in early trading. EasyJet dropped 16 per cent. 

Tourism-sensitive stocks such as plane engine maker Rolls Royce, easyJet and International Consolidated Airlines all saw double digit losses in Europe.

Malaysian rubber glove maker Supermax, which soared 1500% during the first wave of the pandemic, leapt 15 per cent.

Germany's DAX was down 2.8 per cent.

US equity markets have been shut for Thanksgiving. 

Advertisement

Before the ban was imposed, around 500 to 700 people were travelling to the UK from South Africa each day, but this would be expected to rise when the festive period begins. 

Cape Town Mayor Hill-Lewis told radio station SAfm Sunrise today: 'If we know we're going to get punished for detecting new variants, as in the past ... then surely, we should know what we're dealing with before we go and announce it to the world.'  

'We're not even sure if this variant is anything to worry about,' the 34-year-old said.

'I do understand that information shouldn't be withheld, but the national government should have directly approached our travel markets with the news before announcing it publicly. And it shouldn't have been announced in such a way that sows panic,' he added. 

Helpless and furious, South African tour operators are now flooded with cancellations as countries follow Britain's decision. 

'This is a knee-jerk reaction but with such a strong snowball effect,' said Richard de la Rey of Dark Giraffe Marketing, which organises safaris and beach holidays in Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa.

'No one knows anything about this variant at all and they just assume the worst,' he huffed. 

The World Health Organization cautioned against imposing travel restrictions, saying it would take weeks to understand the implications of the newly discovered strain.

'Finally, we were starting to see the traction of recovery,' said Shelly Cox, who organises sustainable trips to Victoria Falls, one of Africa's most coveted tourist attractions on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

High-paying foreign tourists were just starting to return to South Africa, renowned for its wildlife and natural vistas, after the country was shut off from the rest of the world for most of 2020.

Shares in British Airways parent IAG, German carrier Lufthansa and aircraft maker Airbus dropped about 10 per cent on Friday.

Shares in British Airways parent IAG, German carrier Lufthansa and aircraft maker Airbus dropped about 10 per cent on Friday.

Countries then blacklisted South Africa after another variant was found in December - a crippling blow as tourism directly accounts for three percent of the nation's economy and provided more than 700,000 jobs before the pandemic.

Britain only removed it from its dreaded coronavirus 'red list' in October this year, before which travellers were forced to undergo an expensive hotel quarantine upon return to the UK.

Maxine Mackintosh, a 28-year-old genomics researcher, landed in Johannesburg on Thursday and was scheduled to travel around South Africa for 10 days.

By early afternoon Friday, she was airborne on her way back to the UK to avoid have to quarantine.

'We were going to do fun touristy things... go to vineyards, climb up mountains, go surfing... I feel pretty frustrated because this is my first trip since the pandemic and I had been really looking forward to it,' said Mackintosh.

'As a safari operator we had seen a really nice uptick in October,' Andre Van Kets, co-founder of Discover Africa Group, told AFP.

This chart shows the proportion of cases that were the B.1.1.529 variant (blue) and Indian 'Delta' variant (red) over time in Guateng province in South Africa, where the virus is most prevalent. It suggests that the mutant strain could outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

This chart shows the proportion of cases that were the B.1.1.529 variant (blue) and Indian 'Delta' variant (red) over time in Guateng province in South Africa, where the virus is most prevalent. It suggests that the mutant strain could outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

'Booking rates shot through the roof compared to the pandemic era and we were really optimistic... so to have the hand brake pulled up so suddenly is very significant,' he added.

International visitors represent 90 percent of the company's clients. Most come from the UK and the United States, and Van Kets said he dreaded a similar announcement from the White House.

Travel agencies were meanwhile swamped with holidaymakers seeking to change their bookings.

'We are mostly dealing with cancellations from people who cannot fly,' said Morongoe Khoboko, who works for Corporate Traveller Evolution in Johannesburg.

'It's been a crazy morning,'

read more from dailymail.....

PREV Hernando Puno accused of sexually assaulting women at Blackpool Victoria ...
NEXT Social media blames People Magazine for jinxing Betty White with profile ahead ...