Victoria Falls steps up vaccination for its residents to help tourism

Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls usually teems with tourists who come to marvel at the roaring Zambezi River as it tumbles down more than 100 metres to the gorge below, sending up a mist that is visible from miles away.

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'The Smoke That Thunders' - the English translation of what the waterfall is called in the Sotho language - is still mighty, but the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced visitors to a trickle. Ordinarily, Victoria Falls attracts 350,000 tourists a year, but their numbers have dropped to almost none as a result of travel restrictions.

Hotel occupancy rates fell into the single digits during 2020 and the first half of 2021, and some hotels were forced to close, according to the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe.

To promote Victoria Falls as a safe destination, President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government has made vaccines available to all 35,000 residents of the town that shares a name with the waterfall. An estimated 60 per cent of the people there have been vaccinated with either the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines, both from China.

Although tourists have not returned in large numbers, Victoria Falls mostly has been spared the current wave of COVID-19 that has swept across the rest of Zimbabwe and southern Africa, which health officials attribute to the town's relatively high level of vaccinations.

On the strength of the vaccination rate in Victoria Falls, the government last week reopened two land borders that link the town to the neighbouring countries of Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. Travellers with proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test will be permitted entry.

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