International relations and cooperation minister Naledi Pandor is holding talks with the UK government about its travel ‘red list’ and the inclusion of South Africa.
The UK’s current travel restrictions permit entry only to British and Irish Nationals arriving from high-risk countries – commonly referred to as red list countries – who must quarantine in government-managed hotels.
However, Pandor said that the restrictions have caused distress to many South Africans living in the UK, who cannot attend funerals or visit sick family members in South Africa due to the punitive costs of mandatory quarantine they would bear on their return to the UK.
The travel restrictions on travellers from South Africa have also severely impacted trade and tourism between South Africa and the UK, she said.
Pandor said that she held talks with the UK’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab about mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic between the two economies and the best way to deal with the pandemic.
South Africa’s high commission in London has also held discussions with UK’s ‘minister for Africa’ James Duddridge in this regard, she said.
“As the government, we firmly believe that our country must be removed from this red list as soon as possible, and this is based on a number of issues,” she said.
Some of the reasons Pandor gave for removing South Africa from the red list include:
- The government has launched an extensive public awareness campaign on the Covid-19 virus, and South Africans are taking the necessary precautions to prevent the virus from spreading.
- The government vaccine rollout is fully on track, and many South Africans have had their first jab of the Pfizer vaccine and are awaiting their second jabs, with the number of people opting for the one-shot J&J vaccine also on the increase.
- Having covered the most at-risk demographics, the government recently announced that people over 18 could be vaccinated.
- The South African government continuously monitors the Covid-19 situation and has established testing sites all over the country which are easily accessible by the general population.
- Statistics indicate that Covid figures have decreased steadily, and the government has reduced lockdown levels to reflect this.
- South Africa successfully hosted the British and Irish Lions rugby tour, during which all Covid-19 protocols were observed.
Pandor said plans are now being finalised for the government to significantly increase its lobbying efforts to ensure that South Africa is removed from the UK’s red list.
“South Africa’s Covid-19 response remains a government-wide intervention,” she said.
“In this regard, (tourism minister) Lindiwe Sisulu and I are conscious that the UK is South Africa’s number one source of long-haul tourism in the world, a position it has not relinquished for the past 18 years.”
Pandor said that the travel restrictions on British passport holders during the lockdown has caused the number of tourists to reduce drastically over the last 18 months, with the local tourism sector taking a significant knock.
The UK not budging at the moment
The UK government has not shown any signs of shifting its stance on South Africa after it shot down a parliamentary petition calling for the travel ban to be lifted at the end of August.
“We will not compromise on the progress we have made on our vaccine programme by allowing people to freely mix abroad and return or travel to the UK without proper checks and procedures. This is just the start for opening international travel, with the UK leading the way with a robust system,” it said.
“As with all our coronavirus measures, we keep the red list under regular review, and our priority remains to protect the health of the public in the UK.”
It warned that an influx of infections from South Africa and other countries could derail its own lockdown efforts.
A recent study published by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) showed that the South African economy is losing over R180 million every week it remains on the UK’s red list.
Based on 2019 UK visitor numbers and spending, the global tourism body’s research shows these restrictions could represent losses of over R790 million every month. This equates to more than R26 million every day.
“The impact the UK’s traffic light system imposes on ‘red list’ countries is not only damaging the Travel and Tourism sector, but also economies around the world,” said Virginia Messina, senior vice president of the WTTC.
“Our data shows that every day South Africa remains on the UK’s ‘red list’, the country faces losing millions of dollars, effectively delaying the global socio-economic recovery.”
Messina said that the pandemic has also cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in South Africa, pushing more people into poverty. This makes it crucial to restart safe international travel and reduce mobility restrictions, she said.
More than half of all adults have been fully vaccinated in the UK, which significantly reduces the risk of any citizens travelling abroad, the WTTC said.
While the vaccine rollout has picked up the pace, the figure is considerably lower in South Africa.