Return of face masks worries tourist players in Lamu

Covid curfew Nairobi

Members of the public, wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, queue for public transport home at the Kencom bus terminus in the Nairobi central business district, ahead of the curfew hour, on April 7, 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Tourism stakeholders in Lamu are worried that a new face mask mandate aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus could hurt the already struggling tourism industry in the area.

Following a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe on Monday announced that wearing masks would be mandatory in closed or confined spaces such as in public transport vehicles, aircraft, offices, supermarkets, marketplaces and places of worship.

CS Kagwe explained that this was necessary to prevent Kenya from plunging into a medical emergency of the kind experienced in 2020 and 2021 when many people died and resources were overstretched.

But speaking in Lamu, hotel owners, tour guide operators, tourist boat operators and curio shop dealers expressed discontent over the government’s decision to reinstate the mask mandate three months after it was lifted.

In March, officials lifted the requirement to wear face masks in open public places. Full in-person worship was also restored for the vaccinated.

The Lamu tourism players claimed people had started shying away from visiting Lamu for fear of contracting Covid-19.

Abdallah Ali, a hotelier, said the government should not have lifted the face mask-wearing rule in the first place as citizens and even tourists had become used to donning them.

Mr CS Kagwe’s recent announcement, he said, suggested that citizens and tourists are no longer safe.

“Immediately after the announcement that face masks had been reintroduced in the country, tourists that had reserved space in our premises cancelled those bookings, claiming they’ll only visit Lamu when Covid-19 is managed. It’s unfortunate that the return of face masks is creating fear in our clients,” Mr Ali said.

Mohamed Omar, a beach operator, said domestic and international tourists who used to flock to beaches in Lamu and Shela had stopped coming.

“Many tourists feel unsafe walking on these beaches, especially after the country reintroduced face masks early this week. The surge in Covid-19 cases is also worrying many. The tourism sector is already struggling,” said Mr Omar.

Lamu Tourism Association chair Ghalib Alwy said the return of Covid-19 regulations that had been relaxed is discouraging tourists from visiting.

Mr Alwy urged Lamu officials and the national governments to find ways of reviving crucial sectors, including tourism, that were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Sectors like tourism need serious measures, including intensifying online advertisements so that the world can understand what Lamu actually offers,” he said.

Tourism players also want to see peace and unity prevail before, during and after the August 9 General Election.

“Peace and stability are crucial factors for the growth of the tourism sector and the development of the country’s economy as a whole,” Mr Alwy said.

Tourism is a major income earner for Lamu County, with hundreds of families directly depending on it.

Key tourism hubs in the region include Lamu Old Town, Ras Kitau, Shella, Matondoni, Kipungani, Kiwayu, Kizingitini, Faza, Pate, Mkokoni, Ndau, Kiunga and Ishakani.

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