Confusion over SA’s level 1 travel restrictions, Newsline

Cape Town – 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 on Friday reiterated that tourists from a list of 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.

This list includes the UK, US, France and the Netherlands which feature among the top countries of origin for tourists to South Africa in the summer months.

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

The leisure travel no-fly list issued by the Department of Home Affairs, includes BRICS partners, Brazil, Russia and India, but not China.

The briefing by Mbalula comes after the government issued regulations on changes in lockdown level 1, including a briefing by the Minister of International Relations, Naledi Pandor and of Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi earlier in the week.

Pandor explained that the opening of borders and ports would be gradual and guided by epidemiological and transmission rates both 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 low risk areas will be allowed to enter South Africa, but Mbalula said it was too early to allow the mass movement of people from high risk countries.

“We don’t expect an airline to allow people to board who are not compliant with South African laws. 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 from the country of origin, 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 he/she had spent 10 days or more in a low risk country before departure, he/she would be considered to be arriving from a low risk country.

Travellers from medium and low risk countries will only be allowed into the country, subject to the prevailing visa requirements. 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. They will be subjected to the regulations and health protocols of those countries.

Saturday Star’s sister newspaper, 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.

The general feeling among travel agents is uncertainty regarding the travel restrictions which had been lifted.

Big agencies such as Flight Centre’s management were in a meeting early yesterday (Friday) morning, which continued into the afternoon and they were unavailable to speak to comment.

Others were unwilling to speak and wanted questions posed via email, which they said would be answered at a later stage.

One travel agent, who referred us to management, who were also in a meeting, off the record commented that it was chaos, as no one exactly knew what was going on. “There are simply too many uncertainties at this stage. We don’t know ourselves what to say to people who phone us. It seems as if no one knows,” she said.

Managing Director of the world travel agency called Travel Counsellors, Mladen Lukic, said they are receiving a lot of calls from people who are interested in travelling again. “The interest in travel is big, but the number of airlines operating at the moment is limited.”

He said they will keep an eye on how this changes over the time, but he confirmed that it seemed as if people were definitely interested in travelling again and he is confident that some of the uncertainty at this stage will be soon cleared up.

Political Bureau