As vaccination numbers increase in both Mauritius and Australia, the case could be made for the introduction in 2022 of a travel bubble and the resumption of Air Mauritius’s non-stop flights to Perth.
As Covid-19 vaccination programmes ramp up around the world, parts of the south-western Indian Ocean are preparing for the revival of their tourist industries, with Mauritius leading the way. The tourism-dependent island will fully re-open its borders from 1 October.
The national carriers of South Africa and Mauritius, both of which have been under administration since their wings were clipped by Covid-19, are now joined by overseas carriers, including Qantas and Emirates, in actively planning for the return of international travel to the region with the phased resumption of existing routes and the introduction of new links.
In what may become the new normal, both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers will be welcomed to Mauritius, but the accommodation options available to those who have not been vaccinated are limited to a short list of government-approved quarantine hotels with guests required to remain in their hotel rooms for a full fortnight, and to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing on days seven and fourteen. Only after completing quarantine and returning a negative PCR test on day fourteen will unvaccinated travellers be allowed to leave their hotels. Vaccinated travellers, however, are free to stay where they like and to travel freely around the country, subject to presenting a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of their departure for Mauritius.
Air Mauritius, like South African Airways, is preparing its return from the Covid brink, with the resumption of flights to Johannesburg and London in October supplementing its existing Paris-Charles de Gaulle and La Réunion flights. In addition to the main European and Gulf carriers, the Mauritian airline will also face some new competition, with Air Belgium beginning flights between Brussels-Charleroi and the island in December, and French carrier Corsair announcing the return in October of its flights from Paris-Orly, Lyon and Marseille. As is the case at SAA, while that may not be the best of news for staff at the flag carrier, it will be good news for tourism operators across Mauritius.
The re-opening of Mauritius has been aided significantly by the country’s success in locking down and now vaccinating against Covid-19. Tourism workers and hotel staff were prioritised by the Mauritian Government in its vaccine rollout programme and, as the number of infections in the current uptick eases, 45.5 per cent of Mauritians have now been fully vaccinated.
As those numbers increase in both Mauritius and Australia, and taken together with both countries being islands, the case could be made for the introduction in 2022 of a travel bubble between the two and the resumption of Air Mauritius’s non-stop twice-weekly flights to Perth.
In a sign of confidence in both Australians’ willingness to again safely travel overseas and in the tourism offerings available in South Africa, Qantas has indicated its interest in resuming its six days per week Sydney-Johannesburg flights from late December 2021, subject to the continuing uptake of vaccinations and the re-opening of Australia’s borders. Given that the Australian Government has indicated that, dedicated travel bubbles aside, this country’s borders are unlikely to be re-opened before mid-2022, Qantas’s plans may yet be a little too ambitious but they do point to the way ahead and will be welcomed by travellers and airline staff alike.
Not to be outdone, Emirates has announced that it will enter into a new codeshare agreement with South African domestic and regional carrier Airlink, which will increase and improve the connections available to its passengers. As good as that news will be for Emirates customers, it will not be welcomed by SAA, which is taking its first steps out of bankruptcy. Emirates has a similar codeshare agreement with SAA but, as the flag carrier remains grounded, Airlink – having ended its long-time partnership with SAA in November 2020 – appears to have got the jump on it.
With the South African Government no longer the majority owner of SAA – the Takatso Consortium now holds a 51 per cent stake in the airline – the carrier is confident that its new leasing agreements will have aeroplanes back in the skies as soon as September, albeit with a greatly reduced fleet of just eight aircraft. SAA, too, will be looking forward to a return to Australia, as Perth, its sole Australian destination in the pre-Covid era, was one of very few money-making routes.