The United Arab Emirates has indefinitely suspended all inbound flights from Uganda over Covid-19 concerns.
The ban has thrown labour companies into a crisis since most of their clients in the Middle East use Dubai airport to connect to other airports. Dozens of business people along with investors have also been affected.
Passengers on direct and transit flights from Uganda and other seven African countries will not be permitted to travel to Dubai, one of the top four routes from Entebbe International Airport.
The ban that took effect yesterday left dozens of passengers stranded at Entebbe International Airport and several others, including a national football team- the Uganda Cranes, which was forced to cancel their scheduled trip to UAE.
Some airlines like Emirates advised their customers not to call them immediately for rebooking.
They announced that the affected customers can simply hold on to their tickets and when flights resume, they can get in touch with their travel agent or booking office to make new travel plans.
The suspension of flights from Uganda is bad news for the country’s trade and tourism, an important economic sectors that had just embarked on recovery journey after a deep slump caused first by the Covid-induced lockdown and the recent terrorist attacks in Kampala.
Uganda has, however, not reciprocated the ban with the aviation regulator, Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCCA), stating that passengers and cargo from the UAE will be allowed into the country.
The ban comes amid a surge in cases of Covid-19 in the country, with at least 73 cases of the new Omicron variant. Uganda’s Covid-19 test positivity rate has jumped from 0.9 percent on December 13 to 17 percent on December 26 with 907 new cases and five deaths recorded on the same day. The same number of people died on Christmas Day.
Hours after the announcement of the ban, several travellers bound for the UAE including migrant workers were stranded at Entebbe International Airport following the announcement.
In a December 21 statement, UAE authorities said they would be “imposing restrictions on passengers travelling to the UAE from countries witnessing a surge in infections and the emergence of variants”.
The list of the affected countries include Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Angola, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia.
Dubai is a top route from Entebbe International Airport, with an average of 16 flights a week. Uganda’s national carrier, the Uganda Airlines, recently launched flights to UAE joining Ethiopian Airlines, FlyDubai and the Emirates Airline, among others on the route.
The ban announced without a timeline on when to take effect means passengers booked to travel to Dubai today will have to either cancel or reschedule their travel pending a further directive from the UAE authorities.
In a brief statement, Uganda Airlines confirmed the flight ban and announced suspension of its passenger flights to UAE.
“We have temporarily suspended all our passenger bound flights to Dubai effective December 29 until further notice. However, inbound flights from Dubai to Entebbe will continue to carry passengers and cargo,” the airlines states.
Affected passengers were requested to change their tickets to a later date at no extra cost.
On June 11, the UAE imposed a similar flight ban causing a sharp drop in the number of passengers departing Entebbe Airport.
The United Kingdom and Canada also banned flights from Uganda while airlines such as Rwanda Air suspended flights due to the surging number of Covid-19 cases.
A subsequent lifting of the travel ban for UAE resident permit holders saw the number of passengers from Entebbe rise from by 34 percent from 61,328 travellers in July to 81,986 passengers in August.
Mr Vianney Luggya, the UCAA spokesperson, did not respond to our calls or messages requesting specific travel numbers between Uganda and the UAE.
However, UCAA sent out a tweet, saying : “UAE has temporarily suspended flights from Uganda to Dubai until further notice. Incoming Emirates flights from Dubai are still operational. Passengers planning to travel to Dubai are advised to contact their respective airlines for guidance on any changes in the restrictions.”
Attempts to speak to the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) were futile by press time.
An official of one of the labour externalisation companies told Daily Monitor in an interview that the number of workers going to Dubai and other Emirates has dropped with the focus on Saudi Arabia, especially for domestic workers.
In a good month, the official, who requested anonymity, including for the company they run, said they take about 150 workers to Dubai.
The official attributed the drop in numbers to the requirements they impose on the prospective workers such as footing their own costs, while in Saudi Arabia, the whole process, they said, is free.
Situation in UAE
Authorities in the UAE, according to a December 21 statement, say 100 percent of the country’s population has received their first Covid-19 jab while 91.50 percent are fully vaccinated.
Other sources told this publication that the authorities in UAE decided to put Uganda and other countries on the red list after a number of passengers from Uganda tested positive in Dubai.