The small African country with big ideas for fighting Covid
In terms of testing and safety protocols, Rwanda is miles ahead of most countries. Sarah Marshall, travel editor at the UK’s national press agency, PA Media, shares her experience of what it’s like to travel right now.
“Our highest was nine,” sighed my guide, lowering his head. I waited for him to finish his sentence, but there were no noughts or extra figures to add to his sum.
Of course, every life lost is one too many. But in comparison to the UK’s spiralling Covid-19 death toll, Rwanda has managed to keep its own count under remarkable control. Even considering the smaller size of their population, the number of cases to date is a fraction of what we’ve experienced in a day.
Never once, however, has there been any complacency. This was one of the first countries to introduce strict PCR testing measures for all arrivals and the movement of citizens is carefully controlled. Yet tourism still functions, hotels are operating, and for those willing to make the journey, the destination is even more rewarding than ever before.
I’ve travelled to Rwanda twice during the pandemic: once in October and more recently in January. Both times I felt extremely safe. Landing in Kigali (with a negative PCR taken within 72 hours before arrival), I was required to do another PCR test immediately after passing through immigration, then taken to the Serena Kigali (one of several designated hotels) to quarantine until my results arrived. (Recently the Rwandan government introduced a mandatory seven-day self-isolation for all arrivals.)
This was all at my own cost, but at US$60 for a test and US$220 for a full board for two people, it’s a snip of charges currently being levied back home. (In the UK, a test will cost minimum £145.)
Although residents must stay within their own districts, tourists can apply for special exemption to travel countrywide. Everywhere I went, I was amazed by public obedience to the rules: wash basins were stationed outside markets, agricultural workers wore masks emblazoned with kitenge prints, and moto-taxi drivers were diligently sanitising helmets for passengers after every ride.
It gave me a sense of reassurance that everything was being done to fight the virus – even though data suggests cases are still relatively low compared to the rest of the world.
The precautions taken to protect wildlife were equally impressive. Before trekking chimps or gorillas (who are also at risk of catching Covid), tourists must have a negative PCR taken within 72 hours and everyone must wear masks. Fortunately, the process is easy, with mobile clinics and hospitals accepting walk-ins all over the country. Results can be accessed through a centralised app, and I never had to wait more than 24 hours.
Did this all this additional admin detract from my enjoyment? Not at all. In fact, with less tourists around, I selfishly enjoyed a private gorilla trek (a privilege which would typically cost £15K) and managed to book into popular hotels at very short notice. Rwanda’s efforts to combat the virus put the rest of the world to shame. Once international travel resumes on a global scale, I have no doubt the country will be Africa’s safest holiday bet.
Photo credit: Renato Granieri, Travel & Wildlife Photographer