Over the last few weeks there has been extensive and often terrifying coverage of the Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa, and our thoughts are with all those fighting this dreadful disease.
Whilst the coverage has highlighted that the disease is not airborne and can only be contracted by contact with body fluids from an infected person, we have had a number of people asking if it is safe to travel to South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana and other destinations in Eastern and Southern Africa.
The short answer is ‘yes – you can still safely travel to Africa’, however given the seriousness of the situation in West Africa we feel it is worth expanding on this. There are two key points to consider:
Africa is big – really , really big...
One thing that many people not involved with the travel industry are not aware of is just how huge Africa is...for example, the outbreak in West Africa is over 3500 miles away from Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, and over 3,000 miles from Botswana and Namibia. To put this into context, London is about 3000 miles from the affected area, so many of these places are further from the centre of the outbreak than the UK is.
You can get an idea of the sheer scale of Africa from this fascinating map from the Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2010/11/cartography
Most of Africa has not had an outbreak of Ebola since records began in 1976
It is also worth noting that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there have been no reported cases of Ebola since records began in 1976 for Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia or Zimbabwe amongst others. The eagle eyed amongst you will notice that South Africa was missing from that list: well, the only case in South Africa since records began in 1976 was a medical professional who travelled from Gabon to Johannesburg, after having treated Ebola virus-infected patients and thus having been exposed to the virus there. You can see a full history of outbreaks since 1976 here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Ebola_outbreaks
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those currently fighting the the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, however the safari and beach destinations of Southern and Eastern Africa are unaffected at present, and history suggests that they may well remain unaffected througout this outbreak.
Tour operators and airlines will continue to monitor the situation and the FCO travel advice, and if it is considered unsafe for travel by the FCO then people who have booked an ATOL protected package will be entitled to alternative travel arrangements or a refund.
We believe that you can still book with confidence and travel safely to Africa, and we look forward to showing you and your clients around this huge, spectacular and diverse continent.
About the author: Paul Campbell is a member of the SATOA Committee and Managing Director of Travel Butlers Ltd.