Zanzibar deploys rapid Covid testing technology as part of bid to revitalize tourism

Shipping & Logistics

Zanzibar deploys rapid Covid testing technology as part of bid to revitalize tourism


Zanzibar President Hussein Mwinyi. PHOTO | COURTESY

Summary

  • The east African country on Tuesday became the first nation on the continent to launch the exponential depth scanning (EDE) scanners, receiving seven machines that will be stationed at Abeid Amani Kurume International Airport.
  • President Hussein Mwinyi told journalists at the State House that tourists arriving in the country would now be vaccinated free of charge to speed up the recovery of the all-important sector that the pandemic nearly collapsed.

Zanzibar is banking on a UAE rapid Covid-19 testing technology to keep the disease at bay and boost its tourism numbers, which fell by more than 77 percent at the height of the pandemic.

The east African country on Tuesday became the first nation on the continent to launch the exponential depth scanning (EDE) scanners, receiving seven machines that will be stationed at Abeid Amani Kurume International Airport.

President Hussein Mwinyi told journalists at the State House that tourists arriving in the country would now be vaccinated free of charge to speed up the recovery of the all-important sector that the pandemic nearly collapsed.

By partnering with the United Arab Emirates, Zanzibar saw the return of Fly Dubai airline with the EDE scanners.

Etihad and Emirates, the president said will be returning soon, stating that the resumption of flights was “immensely appreciated”. AlfaCare has partnered with Sanimed International, whose parent company IHC is conducting a US$1 billion (Sh112 billion) laboratory and research project to bring the technology to Zanzibar.

Tourism accounts for 30 percent of Zanzibar’s GDP and has been “adversely affected” by the Covid storm that hit East Africa from early 2020, the president said. He said pre-Covid tourist numbers had reached 500,000 but dropped to 117,000 at the height of the disease.

A combination of factors prompted Zanzibar to pick up the UAE scanner, the president said, explaining that “we must follow their protocols and adopt what they are comfortable with.” EDE is an amalgamation of a scanner and a phone-based app that uses electromagnetic Waves can be used and performed from a distance of up to five meters.

The UAE halted flights to Zanzibar over Covid testing concerns, a position that affected a number of countries including neighboring Kenya, with whom it closed horns in a tit-for-tat banter. Dubai extended its flight ban to Nairobi after learning Kenyans had landed on its soil with fake Covid-19 certificates.

The EDE test, the results of which are known within seconds, “will be integrated so once you’ve done it in Zanzibar, you don’t have to do it again in the UAE,” President Mwinyi said.

However, he lamented the weak uptake of the Covid vaccination in the tourist-rich country, saying it was “quite slow” and “not what we expected”. Health Minister Nassor Mazrui told journalists that 200,000 people had been vaccinated but the country is aiming to vaccinate 500,000 in a country of 1.7 million people.

Although it’s more convenient and less invasive, according to Gulrez Muhmmad, a microbiologist who works for AlfaCare and Sanimed, PCR testing is continuing.

EDE is a screening test while PCR is a confirmatory test, said Dr. Muhammad and explained that the technology is 93.5 percent sensitive and 83 percent specific. Ajay Bhatita, CEO of Sanimed, said the scanner will “revolutionize Covid-19 testing in collaboration with the Zanzibar government”.

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