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South Africa reopens skies to scheduled international flights

But tourism business body raises concerns about government’s phased reopening strategy to international travel.
An aerial view of OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. 18 international flights landed and 13 took off from the airport on Thursday. Image: Supplied

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.

Read: Acsa hails new United Airlines Joburg-New York route

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.

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.

Read: Tourists from high-risk countries still barred entry from October 1

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.

Read: ‘SA’s international tourist summer season may just have been saved’

Clarity needed

“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.

Read: Covid-19 recovery will take years – Tsogo Sun Hotels CEO

“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.

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Our airports may be open, but the red tape will strangle any revival.

Aside from red tape, the rules around covid are so complicated that embassy staff do not know what is needed to repatriate SA citizens.

My son in law with dual citizenship, Dutch and SA, has been pushed from pillar to post for the last 8 weeks trying to get paperwork to prove how he got his Dutch citizenship. The dutch embassy issues the correct document, but the SA embassy does not like it. Infuriating, and all the while he is running out of money and just wants to come home.

He is not the only one struggling to come home while our Minister of Home Affairs crows about all the help they are giving to SA citizens.

So expect empty airports, the red tape will mess it all up, as usual, beaurocracy wins.

OR Tambo also saw a KLM arrival yesterday with over 400 passengers and they have another flight scheduled for today. I suggest you go through a travel agent that knows the latest way around the red tape.

I don’t think a travel agent can persuade the DHA!!

He must just travel to Germany by land and fly from there on his South African passport.

Remember Mark Twain: “Never argue with an idiot, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” That is applicable to the whole South African government.

We argued, wrote e mails tried travel agents, all for nothing.

One helpful lady at the Dutch embassy in London told us today to get him to apply for an emergency travel visa. An infant of 6 months was the problem, but no one told us. Home Affairs in London was closed so she could not be registered. The mother is British so they registered her there. They fly next Tuesday unless Million Mile an hour Moth says other wise, and so on and so forth.

I hope now that international travel has commenced that ACSA has reopened the drive through drop off and not forcing every vehicle to pass through the parking lots so they can extort parking fees from the drivers who mare just dropping off passengers. They found a way to rape a few wallets so that they could get a few rands in the till.

Still would love to know why they didn’t close airports right at the outset of the virus. We were sitting here in the southern hemisphere watching it spread all over the northern hemisphere and government did nothing. We could have stopped international visitors there and then and repatriated S. Africans with appropriate quarantine measures and walked away from this relatively unscathed. What a wasted opportunity.

We need our tourists to start visiting our Townships again to get the full South African experience. However I would be s**t scared when you see the number of people not wearing masks and standing on top of each other. Who is still dying daily of Covid? Private and Goverment need to ensure masks are provided and Education. Not all the poorest have TV. Use Military aircraft and Choppers to fly over and drop Masks al Education pamphlets. If the Tax payers footed the bill twice to Zim it can be done. Our Military Pilots could do with some flying hours instead of sitting behind desks doing nothing. Wake up ANC we all know where the risks are.

Not a racist

WJS

Thanks Suren. How about an article covering travel out of SA and the steps necessary to do so. It’ll balance nicely the info you’ve covered here.

End of comments.

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