The first scheduled international flights to South Africa landed in Johannesburg and Cape Town on Thursday and the planes were virtually full according to officials at the Airports Company of SA (Acsa).
This follows the country officially reopening its borders for the first time in over six months, following the Covid-19 lockdown and travel bans.
Around 35 international flights landed and took off, most of which (31) were to the country’s largest air hub, OR Tambo International Airport.
A Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt was the first to land at OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday morning, followed by Ethiopian Airlines and flights from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
At Cape Town International Airport Emirates was the first scheduled flight to land from Dubai just before midday. It was followed by an Ethiopian Airlines flight. The first foreign flights to King Shaka International Airport are expected on Sunday with Emirates and Qatar Airways.
Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and German Ambassador Martin Schäfer were at OR Tambo to welcome passengers on the Lufthansa flight on Thursday morning.
And a truly important moment!
SA opens up and reconnects to the world.
German @lufthansa was the first carrier to land this morning.
With Minister of Tourism Kubayi-Ngubane at OR Tambo to welcome the first travelers
— Martin Schäfer (@AmbSchaefer) October 1, 2020
Highlighting that Germany is one of South Africa’s top overseas tourist source markets and trading partners, Kubayi-Ngubane expressed some relief that German tourists could visit the country due to its lower Covid-19 numbers.
Most of South Africa’s other top ten major source markets for tourists, including the UK, US, France, the Netherlands and India were listed as Covid-19 high risk nations by the South African government this week.
This is based on higher infection rates and active Covid-19 cases in these countries. The above nations are among 60 countries on South Africa’s high-risk list, which means leisure tourists from these countries are still banned from visiting. However, business travellers with scarce skills, diplomats, investors and those participating in sports and other special events will be allowed to travel from these nations.
Travellers from Africa, as well as countries deemed medium- and low-risk countries will be allowed to enter South Africa for both business and leisure.
Kubayi-Ngubane reiterated that the move is part of South Africa’s risk-adjusted Covid-19 strategy and phased opening up to international travel.
“It must be noted that business travellers from these countries are allowed and we will be looking at the list every two weeks as things change. This is just the start of us reopening to international travel, which has come earlier than we initially anticipated,” she said.
“The plan was to open up for African regional travel and then international travel, so this must be seen as a positive….” Kubayi-Ngubane said.
“The tourism sector is on a road to recovery, but it will take time. We started with the opening up of domestic travel. During the recent Heritage Day long weekend many establishments were busy,” she added.
While the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) welcomed the reopening of the country’s international borders on Thursday, it called for an urgent meeting with government to understand the methodology used to define the list of high-risk countries from which leisure travellers are banned.
“We are pleased that international borders are finally reopening so that the tourism sector can get back to work, contribute to the economy and save jobs. This is what we have been lobbying for fervently for many months,” said TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.
“However, it is critical that government meets with private sector as a matter of urgency to clarify the method used to draft the list of high-risk countries and the practicalities surrounding this suggested phased reopening, so that this can be examined and its feasibility determined,” he added.
“There is no public health reason to ban travellers from any country, provided the testing regime and protocols are adhered to,” said Tshivhengwa.
He stressed the importance of government consulting with the tourism private sector to ensure that the reopening is done in a responsible and practical manner.
“While the reopening date is a step in the right direction, the nature of tourism is such that a phased reopening introduces complexities and uncertainties that reduce demand and disrupt the booking cycle. Further, changing the list of high-risk countries every two weeks is wholly impractical,” he said.
“Inbound international travellers need time to plan their travel. Changing the list of unbanned countries every two weeks introduces a layer of complexity and uncertainty that will lead to erratic booking cycles and confusion amongst travellers,” added Tshivhengwa.
“It will also deter foreign governments from giving the green light for their citizens to travel to South Africa as they seek certainty about our entry requirements, as well as deter airlines from operating on the route. There are just too many nuances in tourism for a phased international reopening to be practical, especially if the goalposts change continuously,” he said.
Kubayi-Ngubane (speaking at OR Tambo earlier in the day), however, pointed out that various levels of travel restrictions apply to most countries globally “as the world is still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic”.
According to the UK government’s website, South Africa is currently not on its “travel corridors” list of territories that one can come from where individuals do not have to self-isolate on arrival. This means that while South Africans can travel to the UK, they will need to self-isolate for 14 days based on that country’s current travel rules.
In India for instance, there are even self-isolation periods for people travelling between some of its own states.
South Africa has implemented a 10-day self-isolation period for business travellers (at their own cost) coming from high risk countries.
All travellers coming into the country (both South Africans and international tourists coming) will need to supply a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) Covid-19 test not older than 72 hours from the date of departure from any other country globally.
Travellers will also be screened for any Covid-19 symptoms on arrival and be required to provide proof of accommodation address, should they need to self-quarantine.
Meanwhile, South African Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona also hailed the reopening of the country’s international borders on Thursday. He said the national tourism promotion agency is “delighted” to welcome those international visitors that are able to come to the country.
“While many of our key source markets feature in the high-risk category, meaning that they are not able to travel to South Africa for leisure purposes yet, the environment is fluid and changes constantly,” he added.
“We remain optimistic and encouraged by the gradual phased opening of our sector and we will monitor the changes regularly, as the country lists are reviewed every two weeks,” Ntshona said.
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