By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Tanzania: The Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) has banned three Kenyan airlines from flying into the country airspace in retaliation for Kenya subjecting passengers from Tanzania to a mandatory 14-day COVID-19 quarantine.
Tanzania reported 509 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths in late April when authorities stopped publishing the pandemic’s tally and President John Magufuli declared victory over the coronavirus pandemic, ordering social and economic activities to resume.
Hamza Johari, Head of the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority, said in a statement that Air Kenya Express, Fly540, and Safarilink Aviation will not be allowed to enter Tanzania’s airspace unless Kenya changes its policy and gives passengers from Tanzania better treatment.
This makes the number of Kenyan based and registered airlines to four after the earlier banning of the country’s national carrier Kenya Airways.
Kenya accuses Tanzania of hiding its coronavirus statistics, a claim Tanzanian authorities deny.
This July, Tanzania banned Kenya Airways from flying into its territory ostensibly to retaliate against Kenya’s move to remove Tanzania from a list of more than 30 countries allowed to resume international flights into Kenya from August.
Tanzania banning the three airlines is the culmination of the ongoing diplomatic dispute between the two East African countries over Tanzania’s alleged poor handling of the virus.
Tanzanian authorities were angered by Kenya expanding a list of about 100 destinations it considers safe while excluding Tanzania.
Kenya Airways resumed international flights on Aug. 1, heading to about 30 destinations for the first time since the routes were suspended in March due to the virus.
Johari insisted that the ban on Kenya’s airlines would not be lifted unless air travellers from Tanzania are treated equally as those on the list.
“Some countries are allowed to enter Kenya without the same condition despite having very high rates of COVID-19 infections,” Johari told EABE Digital News in Tanzania.
“What message are they sending to the world about Tanzania?” he scoffed at Kenya’s decision blacklisting Tanzania.
The Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) on July 30 cancelled plans to allow Kenya Airways to resume flights, citing the decision by Kenya to exclude Tanzania from the list of countries whose nationals would be allowed entry under revised coronavirus restrictions.
Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) Director-General Gilbert Kibe said they are waiting for a word from Tanzania, but expressed optimism that the outcome will be positive.
After the meeting of the two aviation regulators, Kenya was told to wait for a response from Tanzania.
The TCAA initially allowed KQ to resume scheduled services to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
Kenyan Transport Minister James Macharia told the Kenyan media early this month that the Tanzanian aviation regulator had lifted the ban and allowed the Kenyan national carrier to resume flights early on August, but the ban remained in place.
Kenya Airways resumed international flights on August 1, heading to about 30 destinations for the first time since the routes were suspended in March due to COVID-19.
Tanzania is one of the more profitable routes for Kenya Airways with its frequent flights to key Tanzanian business and tourist cities including the Indian Ocean’s tourist island of Zanzibar.
Kenya Airways had resumed domestic flights in mid-July and international flights in August.
The standoff between Kenya and Tanzania was observed soon after the outbreak of the pandemic in East Africa, when Kenya blocked Tanzanian truck drivers from entering its territory, fearing they would spread the disease.
Tanzanian authorities have taken a controversially relaxed approach to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic then opened its entire borders two months ago.
East African Community Business Council (EABC) weighed into the issue, urging Kenya and Tanzania to fast-track the unconditional reopening of the airspace.
“EABC urges, the East African Community (EAC) Partner States to prioritize then fast-track the unconditional re-opening of regional air transport services and agree on an EAC coordinated approach on the opening of the regional aviation sector,” said the EABC Chief Executive, Peter Mathuki.
Dr Mathuki said re-opening of regional air transport services will integrate logistics value chains for increased exports of fresh produce and regional tourism and enable service providers to tap into the larger EAC market.