Victoria Falls — The new surge in coronavirus cases which has seen government effect a strict 30-day lockdown has come as a huge blow to the tourism industry particularly in Victoria Falls where clients and business have literally disappeared overnight.

The tourism sector was arguably hardest hit by the global pandemic since outbreak last March with many operators and hoteliers closing, resulting in some workers losing jobs.

The gradual relaxation of restrictions by government had renewed some hope to the industry which had continued to ready itself for a new lease of life.

It was all smiles for a majority of industry players during the festive season as bookings were generally above 50 percent, but the lockdown announced by Vice President Costantino Chiwenga, in his capacity as health minister, last week was a huge blow.

Regional visitors especially from neighbouring countries were beginning to return to the country’s prime resort taking advantage of relaxation of restrictions and resumption of air travel in both their countries and Zimbabwe.

Domestic tourism was also significant during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

However, operators say there are no more clients since the announcement of the lockdown which came with a ban on intercity travel.

According to new lockdown rules, citizens are restricted from travelling by road while air travel remains open.

Chiwenga announced, “Inter-provincial and intercity transport services are restricted only to essential services and Part 4 commercial services. Air transportation remains unhindered and will continue as before with arrivals and returning residents being required to present Covid-19 free certificates.

“As for land access, only returning residents and essential service drivers will be admitted subject to presentation of Covid-19 free certificates issued at least 48 hours before departure.”

Only essential services such as hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets as well as other commercial services such as mining, manufacturing and agriculture were exempted from the lockdown.

The tourism industry is considered an essential service although other restrictions disadvantage the sector from getting clients.

Said Chiwenga, “Just to be clear, restaurants, bottle stores and bars are closed for 30 days except for bars and restaurants serving hotel residents. Also tourist facilities and national parks will operate as before subject to the usual health precautions.”

Operators can only hope for improvement in Covid-19 situation.

“We are back to zero as there are no clients at all. We had hoped that the business brought by the festive season was a new beginning but sadly that has disappeared. Even airlines are not bringing any clients,” said a hotel executive.

Tourism executive Clement Mukwasi said while the lockdown was critical in disrupting the spread of the pandemic, the sector will continue to suffer.

Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro recently called for strict adherence to Covid-19 prevention measures such as wearing of masks, washing of hands, and practicing social distancing in light of the upsurge in Covid-19 cases and the introduction of a 30-day lockdown.

He said Harare and Bulawayo are hotspots but urged all citizens to be wary of the Covid-19 danger.

Matabeleland North has been recording significant new cases lately with many of them in Victoria Falls, raising fears the new wave could be a result of influx of domestic holiday makers during the festive season.