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

In a potential blow to SA’s tourism industry, which is one of the sectors hardest hit by the national lockdown, the government has decided to exclude some of the country’s biggest sources of travellers from the opening of borders.

While business travellers from countries that have traditionally provided SA with its highest-spending tourists, among them the US, UK and major economies in the EU such as France, will be allowed, leisure travellers will be excluded after a recent surge in infections mean they are deemed high risk.

International relations & co-operation minister Naledi Pandor said the list will be reviewed every two weeks. Investors, diplomats and participants in professional sporting events will be allowed.

Players in the multibillion-rand industry had argued that further travel restrictions or bans will derail any recovery in an industry that accounted for about 9% of GDP in 2020 and supported more than 1-million jobs. The government decision comes as rising infections in Europe have seen governments there scrambling to issue new restrictions without repeating the widescale lockdowns that led to historic declines in second-quarter GDP.

On Wednesday, the government provided a list of countries with high infection rates that will not be allowed to let residents travel to SA for tourism, including fellow Brics members India, which has the second-highest number of infections after the US, and Brazil, which is approaching 5-million active cases. Travellers from Russia, France, Portugal and the Netherlands have also been excluded.

About a third of the more than 10-million visitors who spent almost R120bn in the country in 2019 came from Europe, with the UK the biggest market.

The US is also a top source of tourists for SA, with more than 373,000 arrivals in 2019.

The six-month lockdown has had a devastating effect on SA’s already weak economy, which lost more than 2-million jobs in the second quarter, according to a Stats SA report on Tuesday. Tourism and aviation were some of the biggest casualties, with Comair joining SAA in business rescue.

SA moved to level 1 of the lockdown in September, with President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing that the country’s borders will open on October 1.

SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona welcomed the announcement as providing clarity and transparency in categorising countries. "We now have certainty … we know it is a transparent formula and it brings predictability," he said. "No country in the world has [got] this right, everyone is trying to find appropriate measure."

Pandor said SA’s risk categorisation model for different international travellers classifies countries according to a scale of high, medium and low risk.

High-risk countries are those with higher numbers of Covid-19 infections and reported deaths than SA. Medium-risk countries have a relatively equal number of infections and death toll to SA and low risk would be those with fewer infections.

Despite the restrictions, South Africans in high-risk countries will be allowed to return home, as has been permitted through repatriation flights. South Africans with family living in high-risk countries will be allowed to travel to visit them, but when re-entering SA will be subjected to the same requirements as foreigners.


Pandor said travellers who intend to visit the country from anywhere in the world will be expected to produce a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that is not older than 72 hours from the time of departure from the country of origin to SA.

The test has to be conducted by a certified medical practitioner and should have the name and signature of the practitioner who conducted it on the certificate to be presented at the port of entry.

All travellers will be screened even if they have a negative Covid-19 test result. They will also need to provide proof of accommodation address if they need to self-quarantine at the time of arrival in the country.

Pandor said that if a traveller displays any Covid-related symptoms or has been in contact with an infected person, they will be expected to take a mandatory test. This test will be at the traveller’s cost.

If the test comes back positive, the traveller will be subjected to a 10-day quarantine at a designated site at their own cost.


South Africa will open its borders to international travellers on October 1 2020. Business and leisure travellers will be permitted from all countries not deemed to be high-risk by the government and World Health Organization guidelines.

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