Botswana will allow unvaccinated travelers into the country, provided they produce a negative COVID-19 test result. That’s a reversal from last month, when the nation started denying entry to travelers who were partially vaccinated or unvaccinated and not willing to get a free shot.

Botswana Ministry of Health spokesperson Christopher Nyanga said in a statement the decision to allow the unvaccinated into the country was meant to ensure smooth entry for travelers.

“I wish to indicate that these changes now allow partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people to enter the country, if they comply with the required testing requirements,” he said. “It is only when one is not fully vaccinated and is also not willing to undergo COVID-19 testing at the port of entry, that they will be charged and fined or taken to a court of law.”

There was confusion over what determined a fully vaccinated person. In Botswana, the vaccine validity period is 180 days, while Europe gives the same vaccines a 270-day validity period.

Nyanga says the vaccine validity discord was taken into consideration when dropping the vaccine mandate.

“Due to discordant periods for taking booster shots between Botswana and other countries, and for purposes of smoothening international travel, the definition of being fully vaccinated in Botswana will no longer include a booster shot,” he said. “Having completed the primary vaccine series will be considered sufficient for one to be allowed entry, without the need to present a negative PCR test result.”

Cindy Kelemi , director of the human rights organization Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV-AIDS, welcomed the government’s move.

“We have always maintained that the response to COVID-19 does not necessarily require for criminalization to be used as a strategy,” she said. “And not allowing entry to those who are not vaccinated is actually a violation of people’s rights. Therefore, it was only reasonable for the government to retract its previous guidelines and remove the barring of people who are not vaccinated, into Botswana.”

Since the introduction of vaccine mandates on Feb. 14, Botswana’s tourism industry says, it has suffered huge losses, with canceled bookings worth $10 million.

A tour guide in the Okavango Delta, Keletso Sedume, said he expects the situation to improve now that COVID-19 entry requirements have been eased.

“It is good news as there was a drop of tourists coming to the delta in the last few weeks,” he said. “We heard it is because some were reluctant to vaccinate and had canceled their bookings. We hope to see them come in now.”

Botswana authorities say they have vaccinated more than 71% of the adult population, which is one of the highest vaccination rates on the continent. 

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