Sabi Sand ready to welcome visitors thanks to reserve-wide vaccine programme

Thursday, 2 September 2021

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Ulusaba Rock Lodge
Ulusaba Rock Lodge

Temporary Covid-19 vaccination stations set up at Sabi Sand nature reserve in Mpumalanga will see Sabi Sand employees, their families, security personnel as well as rhino anti-poaching and conservation staff vaccinated by the end of this week.

Vaccinations are also being made available to the neighbouring communities of Dixie and Dumphries. Oscar Mthimkhulu, CEO of Sabi Sand, says, “This vaccine drive aims to achieve reserve and community-wide immunity, attract visitors back to one of South Africa’s major eco-tourism destinations and retain jobs. Tourism in South Africa has been hard-hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, and Mpumalanga has not been spared. We have partnered with Dis-Chem Pharmacies and Eurolab to roll out the programme.”

The Mpumalanga MEC for health, Sasekani Manzini, visited two of the four vaccine stations at Sabi Sand’s Ulusaba reserve and in the Dixie village today. Manzini says, “The communities surrounding Sabi Sand are central to its operations as a large proportion of its staff come from nearby villages. Covid-19 has seen people in rural provinces like Mpumalanga suffer because they rely on employment offered by businesses in the area. It is heart-warming to see Sabi Sand make this concerted effort to vaccinate staff and communities close by. This initiative is an exemplar for other tourism companies, especially those operating in rural provinces.”

Sabi Sand, which spans 62,000 hectares, includes several safari lodges and shares a border with the world-renowned Kruger Park, is one of the largest employers of eco-tourism and conservation in Mpumalanga. Each staff member employed at Sabi Sand supports around nine people. Mthimkhulu adds that, “This vaccine drive also supports the Tourism Sector Recovery Plan released in March this year which encompasses the implementation of norms and standards for safe operations to enable safe travel and rebuild traveller confidence. We hope to create a ‘bubble of safe operations’ within the Sabi Sand reserve and among nearby communities in order to promote the recovery of tourism.

“We have worked closely with Dis-Chem Pharmacies and Eurolab to plan and coordinate vaccinations across four vaccine sites. These are at the Ulusaba and Thornybush lodges as well as in the nearby Dixie and Dumphries communities. Dis-Chem has provided the vaccine infrastructure, set up the vaccination site and is administering the vaccines. Oncology company Eurolab is also supporting the initiative, and through its subsidiary Oncolab, is establishing a Covid-19 testing station with same-day results for Sabi Sand staff and guests.”

Gabe Simaan, Eurolab chairman, says, “We are pleased to support this drive to bring South African and international guests back to Sabi Sand. Visitors to South Africa need to provide a copy of a negative PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test when they arrive and before they leave. The closest Covid-19 testing facilities are some two hours’ drive from Sabi Sand. We are supporting Sabi Sand with Covid-19 testing to make it easy and quick for guests and staff to take a test and get their results on the same day.”

Ivan Saltzman, Dis-Chem Pharmacies CEO, says, “We are pleased that we were able to lend our expertise in setting up this mass vaccine site at Sabi Sand and hope that this effort will boost tourism in the area. It also demonstrates our commitment to expanding vaccine access. Dis-Chem Pharmacies is directly involved in the national vaccine rollout and has established numerous vaccine sites across the country. We are able to set up vaccine sites where they are needed. We are working closely with the National Department of Health, and our services are aligned to its electronic vaccination data system (EVDS).”

Simaan adds that, “The more jabs we can get into arms, the quicker South Africa will be able to return to a sense of normality across all sectors, as well as eco-tourism and conservation. The EVDS is efficient and user-friendly and has made the coordination of this vaccination campaign seamless. Eurolab’s partnership with Sabi Sand and Dis-Chem Pharmacies is in full support of government’s goal to administer 70-million doses by February next year.”

Mthimkhulu says, “We are committed to ensuring the health and safety of our guests and employees. The United States-approved Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are being administered, which is an important consideration, especially for tourists from the United States.”

According to Statistics South Africa, foreign arrivals in South Africa dropped by 71% – from just over
15,8-million in 2019 – to less than 5-million in 2020. Visitors to Mpumalanga mostly come from the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom, eSwatini and Mozambique.