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Hundreds of holidaymakers have cancelled trips to Uganda following an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
At least 16 people have been killed by the disease, and 20 more are thought to be infected, with cases occurring in the Kibale district, in the west of the country, home to a Kibale National Park that is popular with tourists.
Although the World Health Organisation and the Foreign Office have not issued any travel restrictions to Uganda because of the outbreak, the Uganda Tourism Association said that its members had reported massive cancellations. The timing of the outbreak is particularly damaging – the peak season for overseas visitors to Uganda is in August.
“We were starting to get very busy, but now this Ebola thing is dampening the opportunity,” said Mr Wekesa. “It’s our history that’s letting us down. What are we known for? Idi Amin, disease, poverty, all negative things.”
“We are talking about millions of dollars here,” he added. “If the government does nothing in terms of damage control, a lot of jobs are going to be on the line.”
John Hunwick, a British businessman and tour operator, said the outbreak could be damaging to the long-term future of Ugandan tourism, which has traditionally lagged behind that of neighbours Tanzania and Kenya.
“Tourists are leaving because people are scared,” he said. “All tour operators are experiencing the same. What is going to happen is that future bookings will not be there.”
As the Foreign Office has not issued any restrictions on travel due to the outbreak (it already advises travellers against all but essential travel to parts of eastern Uganda, due to “endemic lawlessness”), those holidaymakers who do choose to cancel their trips may not be entitled to a refund.
The outbreak began almost a month ago, and this week Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president, appeared on national television warning people to be vigilant and to avoid physical contact.
It is the fourth occurrence of Ebola in Uganda since 2000, when the disease killed 224 people. At least 42 people were killed in another outbreak in 2007, and there was a lone Ebola case in 2011.