Anger as UK keeps South Africa on red status despite government lobbying.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Britain’s decision to leave South Africa on its Covid-19 red list of countries whose citizens cannot enter the UK – while removing eight other countries from the list – has sparked outrage .
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Friday evening that his government was removing Turkey, Pakistan, Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya from the list and simplifying entry procedures for foreigners . But SA remained on the list despite a furious campaign by Pretoria and the companies to remove it.
David Frost, CEO of Satsa, who led the campaign, said DM168 Friday that Shapps’ decision was “outrageous and utterly unacceptable.” Frost said the decision was based on outdated Covid-19 infection data and a misinterpretation of science.
He said Shapps appeared to have based his decision on his well-known insistence that the beta variant originated largely from South Africa, which was anachronistic information from last December.
“We would like to know how Kenya got off the list. We know their genomic sequencing is pretty much nonexistent compared to ours. We do good science, ”said Frost, adding that he believed South Africa was paying the price for this science unfairly.
Elsewhere, Covid-19 vaccinations are becoming health passports for South African tourists to other vacation destinations like France, Germany, Switzerland and Greece. But the UK – the biggest source of inbound tourists – and the US remain closed to South African tourists and their own returning nationals. Britons who travel to South Africa must undergo 10 days of quarantine on their return, which has effectively killed the market and is costing SA around R26 million a day, according to the tourism industry.
The loss of British tourism has already cost the SA 2.4 billion rand since it was listed in May, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. The UK has historically been South Africa’s largest source market for tourists. More than 430,000 UK travelers arrived in South Africa in 2019. When international travel came to a complete halt from April to December 2020, UK arrivals fell 97%.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor has joined the campaign to persuade Britain to remove SA from the red list. This week, she again raised the issue with new British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss in a closed-door online meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, Pandor spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said.
“She lifts it up at every opportunity,” he said. The minister did so on behalf of SA and many other African countries on the red list.
Pandor told Radio 702 this week: “South Africa has made good progress through the third wave and its health system has shown it is capable of meeting the challenge. We are passing this on to our counterparts in the UK and hope that very soon common sense will prevail.
“South Africa is a major destination for tourists from the UK and for tourists from South Africa to the UK. I think there are a lot of protests coming to the table from the Prime Minister as well as the Secretary of State, ”Pandor added.
Frost told DM168 that SA is being punished in part because its good Covid-19 scientists have made discoveries that are not being correctly interpreted by the world. He is furious at reports that SA could become a Covid-19 ‘mutation factory’. The reports stem from the work of bioinformatics professor Tulio de Oliveira, who heads gene sequencing programs at two South African universities.
He told an immunology conference on Aug. 30 that the 8.2 million people living with HIV in South Africa were immunocompromised and therefore able to harbor the coronavirus for longer, allowing it to mutate as it went. ‘it was happening again.
“You have this massive viral evolution, really the virus accumulating over 30 mutations,” De Oliveira said. Frost said this message was being amplified in the UK and elsewhere and being picked up by British “hawks” trying to keep SA on the red list. He believes that many uncontextualized interpretations of the scientific position in South Africa are being used against the country.
The evidence clearly points to South Africa being taken off the Red List. If the UK government is to maintain the integrity of its traffic light system, it must reward countries that empirically prove they are safe by granting them amber status.
He noted that the UK imposed its outright ban on SA in December after SA detected the beta variant of Covid-19, as if it was about to take over the world. Since then the Delta variant has completely overtaken the Beta variant and is also dominant in the UK.
Frost pointed out that the average number of new daily Covid-19 infections in AS had halved in the past two weeks. Its infection rate is less than a quarter of that of the UK and lower than that of most EU countries on the UK’s Orange List (which allows entry for tourists but with quarantines ).
Frost said there were growing calls in the UK for South Africa to be taken off the list. For example, in The Independent, in a joint statement on behalf of the South African tourism industry, Ben Bradshaw MP Lord Oates and Baroness Chalker said: “The evidence clearly indicates that South Africa is removed from the red list. If the UK government is to maintain the integrity of its traffic light system, it must reward countries that empirically prove they are safe by granting them amber status.
Frost noted that aggressive lobbying, in a large government campaign, removed India from the list. The South African government, in tandem with business organizations like its own and Business Leadership South Africa, had fought for SA, but much more was needed.
The UK and US seem increasingly out of step as other tourist destinations quickly open up to vaccinated South Africans. France, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain and Greece are among the European countries that recently abandoned quarantine requirements and opened their doors to South African tourists who have been vaccinated. Others are expected to follow shortly.
Yet China, Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Turkey and others only allow entry for South African tourists if they undergo quarantine periods. long and often expensive.
A South African woman who holds a British passport and had to return to the UK to visit her elderly mother described the costs, inconvenience and confusion of navigating the UK’s Covid-19 regulations and restrictions United.
She had to book in advance a package consisting of 10 nights in a quarantine hotel, with three meals a day, and two PCR tests, for a total of around R35,000. The price was fixed and she did not have the money. hotel choice. Upon arrival at Heathrow Airport, she and other SA travelers were directed to Terminal 5, which was dedicated to handling arrivals from Red List countries. From there, travelers were entirely in the hands of officials who transported them to their hotels and kept them there efficiently.
Their meals were brought to their rooms, which they could not leave except for short periods of exercise in the hotel parking lot. If they had to leave their room for some other reason, they could only do so with permission – and under supervision.
The United States also continues to bar entry to South African tourists, although other categories of travelers may be permitted if the United States deems it “in the national interest”. South Africa is on a list of 33 banned source countries, which includes all those in the European Schengen area, as well as the UK, Ireland, Brazil, China, India and Iran .
The number of tourists moving between South Africa and European countries opening up to vaccinated South Africans has slowly started to increase, according to a Johannesburg-based travel agent.
And some South African tourists visiting these countries are using them as a back door to other European members of the Schengen visa regime that are not yet open to South Africans, such as the Netherlands and Italy, said diplomatic sources. DM168. Indeed, no immigration restrictions apply between Schengen countries.
The Johannesburg travel agent said Schengen area immigration officials are starting to realize this and are demanding proof of the country of departure for travelers crossing Schengen borders.
A diplomatic source said South Africans traveling to France should also make sure to register for the Sanitary Pass, which certifies their vaccination status and is required to enter regional restaurants, planes and trains, as well as all venues. can accommodate 50 people or more. This pass is an application with a QR code.
Other European countries have equivalents.
The officer also highlighted the dangers that changing redlist restrictions posed to travelers to destinations such as the UK. Some travelers choose to quarantine in other countries, such as Ireland, before entering the UK. Johannesburg travel agent said DM168 that due to uncertainties and variations in travel to Europe, many South Africans choose to vacation in Africa instead. Egypt only requires a recent negative Covid-19 PCR test, as do most of the closer countries, such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Eswatini, Mozambique and Ethiopia.
This week, Seychelles removed South Africa from its shortlist, meaning South Africans can visit the archipelago with only a recent negative PCR test certificate. Mauritius will remove South Africa from its shortlist on October 1. Vaccinated travelers will immediately be allowed to move freely across the island. Unvaccinated people will still have to undergo quarantine in an official quarantine hotel for 14 days. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest dealer, please click here.