You can fly … but where to and from is up in the air, Newsline

Val Boje

There is confusion and frustration over the ban on visitors from countries deemed high risk, with those in the travel industry still trying to come to terms with the raft of regulations.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula yesterday reiterated that tourists from a list of 60 countries considered to have a high risk of Covid-19 were not allowed to travel to South Africa at this stage, despite the opening of borders from October 1.

No-go countries include the UK, the US, France and the Netherlands which feature among the top countries of origin for tourists to South Africa in the summer months, and BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia and India.

Speaking at OR International Airport, Mbalula told the media that those who could show they were travelling for business, investors, researchers, professional sporting or cultural activities, along with diplomats could fly in from these countries.

He said the devastation caused by Covid-19 could be seen in the decline in the number of international travellers. During the hard lockdown, only 198 000 people landed in the country, mainly for essential services. This number rose to 300 000 during level 3. This compares with 1.8 million international travellers who came in every month on average over the past five years.

Mbalula’s briefing comes after the government announced changes to level 1, including a briefing by ministers of International Relations, Naledi Pandor and Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi.

Pandor explained that the opening of borders and ports would be gradual and guided by epidemiological and transmission rates in South Africa and the traveller’s countries of origin. The list would be reviewed fortnightly as the situation is fluid.

Tourists from the continent and other areas considered low to medium risk are allowed to come into South Africa, but Mbalula said it was too early to allow the mass movement of people from high risk countries.

“With Covid-19, before you depart from your hometown, whichever country you are from, you must know the package of our laws,” said Mbalula.

This includes producing a PCR (Covid-19) test that is not older than 72 hours from the time of departure, health screening, medical insurance and proof of accommodation in South Africa.

Mbalula said tourists from high risk countries – where the rate of infection was higher than South Africa’s – would have to wait until there were further relaxations of the regulations or the situation in their country improved.

Earlier, Pandor had indicated that if the passport of a traveller from a high risk country indicates that they had spent 10 days or more in a low risk country before departure, they would be considered to be arriving from a low risk country.

Travellers from all African countries are allowed and must possess relevant travel documents, and will also be screened for Covid-19 symptoms.

Mbalula said that South Africans who want to travel to identified high risk countries may do so, depending on those country’s regulations. However, he did not recommend it.

They will be subjected to the regulations and health protocols of those countries, he said.

The Pretoria News contacted a number of travel agents yesterday and was told either that they were in meetings or could not comment at this stage as they were still studying the regulations.

One travel agent noted that it was a shambles as there were too many uncertainties at this stage to advise clients. This included some differences in the list of countries read out and that published.

Andrew Stark, the Flight Centre Travel Group’s managing director for Middle East and Africa told Bruce Whitfield’s The Money Show the best way to sum it up was “complexity, complexity and more complexity” with leisure travel still very restricted.

He advised people to stick to local for the next few months and then start looking to plan holidays further afield in 2021.

Managing director of the Travel Counsellors, Mladen Lukic said they were receiving a lot of calls from people who are interested in travelling again.

However, the number of flights is limited with some airlines only due to resume flights in December.