SA airports, hospitality industry step up coronavirus response

Airports across the country have ramped up their hygiene practices, while other companies including AirBnB are reviewing their policies to minimise inconvenience to travellers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Airports Company South Africa said on Monday that it supports President Cyril Ramaphosa's latest measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic and has intensified its coordinated response to help mitigate the spread of the virus at all its airports.

The measures are aligned to the standards and protocols provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), it said.

ACSA is also strengthening screening and testing measures at international airports.

Officials continue to use thermal screening on all passengers entering South Africa, with those passengers identified as potentially infected at the airport then channelled to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases for further testing, the company said.

All passengers are also asked to complete a questionnaire before landing to assist with detection and tracing of potential infections from high-risk areas.

More hand sanitiser, more cleaning

The number of hand sanitising stations has been increased and the cleaning schedules of high contact surfaces updated for more frequent sterilisation with ammonia and chlorine-based cleaning compounds in line with NICD recommendations, ACSA said.

All front-line staff have been supplied with protective respiratory masks and gloves to minimise the risk of infection.

On Monday, Andrew Stark, managing director of Flight Centre Travel Group Middle East and Africa, said the company would assist and reaccomodate affected travellers in the wake of travel restrictions announced by Ramaphosa at the weekend. 

However, he warned those that were still travelling to plan for delays. Travellers should allow for additional time at airports and ports of entry, locally and abroad, as strict health screening is being performed at airports worldwide, he noted.

"Don't travel without comprehensive travel insurance, regardless of the destination. Inform yourself and adopt these basic protective measures from the World Health Organisation, regardless of travel," he added.

The latest travel bans and restrictions instituted include travel bans effective March 18, 2020, to and from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, United States, UK and China.

Travellers from medium-risk source markets - Portugal, Singapore and Hong Kong - "must to present themselves for testing" and South Africans who came from high-risk destinations must place themselves in self-isolation.

There will also be intensified screening at all ports of entry and all non-essential domestic travel is discouraged.

Travel policies

As for other measures in the travel and tourism industry, AirBnB has announced what it calls an Extenuating Circumstances policy, which allows hosts and guests to cancel eligible reservations with no charge or penalty. This policy now applies to existing reservations for stays and AirBnB Experiences made on or before March 14, 2020, with check-in dates between March 14, 2020 and April 14, 2020.

This policy applies to bookings of places to stay and AirBnB Experiences in every country and region around the world, with the exception of domestic travel in mainland China which is scheduled to return to normal rules on April 1.

"We examined AirBnB reservations that were cancelled in the last month and found that 86% of the money that would have been spent by guests on these reservations was returned to them in the form of refunds," AirBnB said in a statement.

"We will continue to assess the situation and will provide further information as it becomes available. And though travel has been significantly impacted by the virus, we do know travel remains incredibly important and we are working to provide tools and policies to best support our hosts and guests during these unusual times."

Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, acknowledged the challenge of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Though travel may not be a priority for many at this time, he said, the hotel chain was prioritising guest safety where necessary. 

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