Major associations in the SA tourism and hospitality industry say government should remove compulsory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing requirements for inbound international and returning South African travellers who are fully vaccinated.
Organisations including the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa), Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) and the Southern African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) argue that the PCR test for Covid-19 is hindering the recovery of the industry.
Their call comes after the government announced the easing of adjusted Level 1 lockdown restrictions on Monday.
Notable changes include the Covid-19 isolation period being reduced from 10 days to seven, and that those who test positive but have no symptoms do not have to isolate.
“The rationale for these amendments is informed by the proportion of people with immunity to Covid-19 which has risen substantially, exceeding 60-80% in several sero-surveys,” the cabinet announced in a statement.
Fedhasa says although it welcomes the announcement, it still urges government to remove the compulsory PCR test as it remains a deterrent to international travel and consequently the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sector.
“Many other countries have already removed the requirement … as long as travellers can prove that they have been fully vaccinated,” says Fedhasa chair Rosemary Anderson.
“While we have been grateful to our domestic travellers for their support throughout the pandemic, there are many tourism and hospitality companies in South Africa which depend heavily on inbound international travel,” she adds.
“The removal of this [PCR] requirement will go some way to making South Africa attractive to visit once again and in turn help these companies rebuild, preserve jobs and contribute to the economy. Tourism holds the key to catalytic growth and job creation, but for it to contribute as it can and should, an enabling environment is required and a good start would be to tackle this PCR test requirement.”
Satsa CEO David Frost echoes Anderson’s views. He says while the industry is at work rebuilding ‘destination South Africa’s’ reputation, the PCR test requirements hampers its effort.
“For many of our key source markets, obtaining a negative PCR test specifically for travel is onerous, not reasonably available and expensive. The cost and inconvenience are exacerbated if they are visiting multiple destinations in Southern Africa over the general two-week or 10-day holiday period,” Frost tells Moneyweb.
“The World Health Organisation has stated that international travellers should not be considered as a priority group for Covid-19 testing and those who have been fully vaccinated should be exempt from heightened travel restrictions.
“The United Kingdom recently removed the PCR test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers in lieu of inexpensive and quicker rapid antigen tests. Germany and Ireland have similarly scrapped testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers entering their countries,” he says.
“It is our firm belief that the same should be implemented in South Africa. We are competing against countries that have scrapped PCR testing for fully vaccinated travellers and have widespread community transmission in place already which renders the requirement for PCR testing redundant.”
Frost argues that the only weapons in the arsenal against the spread of Covid-19 are the non-pharmaceutical interventions currently in place and the widespread vaccination programme.
He says travel bans were not effective in curbing the spread of variants, even with the requirement of a PCR test in place into and out of the country.
“Now that these travel bans have been lifted, we have a small window of opportunity to attract our international travellers back to South Africa so that we begin the long and arduous process of rebuilding. Removing the PCR test requirement for vaccinated travellers will go some way in helping us to achieve this.”
South Africa still has strict health protocols in place for international travellers as they need to produce a copy of a negative PCR test to border officials upon arrival in the country. It is also required that the test must have taken place no more than 72 hours before departure.
Self-isolation is not required if you have provided the negative PCR test.
Palesa Mofokeng is a Moneyweb intern.