OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

France and Switzerland have been added to the list of high-risk countries against which travel bans have been issued by the SA government in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

The countries were added to a list in a travel advisory issued by the department of international relations & co-operation on Tuesday evening.

Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on Sunday and announced sweeping measures that include a travel ban on high-risk countries.

The countries are Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the US, the UK and China, and visas issued to people in these countries are being revoked.

The international relations travel advisory says South African citizens planning to travel or transit through these countries, as well as France, Switzerland and the EU, should refrain from doing so.

This includes all forms of travel to or through the identified high-risk countries.

The department said citizens should also refrain from travelling on cruise ships.

This is effective immediately, until further notice. Non-essential travel to other countries should also be cancelled or postponed, the department said.

Travel bans announced by Ramaphosa in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis will kick in on Wednesday and regulations are being finalised, transport minister Fikile Mbalula said.

The regulations, which will be gazetted on Wednesday, will give aviation entities the authority to prevent or decline authorisation for aircraft to land at the country’s 11 airports.

Mbalula said aviation entities have finalised their implementation plans for the travel ban.

These operational plans include, among others, that if there are foreign nationals from one of the high-risk countries on an aircraft that lands in SA it will be directed to a remote parking area and relevant authorities will be notified.

If a passenger from a high-risk country arrives in SA and is connecting or transiting to other neighbouring countries, airport authorities, port health and immigration will conduct health checks and do a thorough travel history check to assess if people need to be quarantined.

Mbalula said port health services will conduct health checks on all SA citizens returning from high-risk countries and will assess if anyone needs to go into quarantine.

He said the biggest decider on whether someone should be quarantined will be travel history, not nationality.

Mbalula said since the announcement of the travel ban some airlines have already started cutting scheduled flights and informing passengers.

The minister said SA citizens wishing to return will be allowed to.

“They must come back. We will quarantine them or they will quarantine themselves,” he said.

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said though some of the country’s land and seaports of entries have been closed none of the airports will be closed and will continue to operate but there will be heightened vigilance.  

Motsoaledi said visas of those from high-risk countries who had not yet visited SA will be revoked.

He said during January and February 8,000 visas for Chinese nationals were issued and will now be revoked. For Iran 425 visa were issued during same time.

Travellers from medium-risk visa-free countries will now have to apply for a visa to visit SA and will have to have a certificate confirming that they have undergone a test and are coronavirus-free.

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said airlines worldwide are under huge financial strain and asking governments for bailouts and are reviewing whether they are sustainable.

In terms of SAA, which is in business rescue, the minister said while other airlines cancel flights to SA, the ailing state-owned airline was considering the in the last few days taking on some of  their passengers flying to SA.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za