Picture: 123RF/ALEKSTAURUS
Picture: 123RF/ALEKSTAURUS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed optimism that the UK will soon lift its travel ban on South Africans, saying he had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday. SA was placed on the UK's ''red list” due to scientists concerns that travellers would import the Beta variant, but it has long since been displaced by the Delta variant, which is also dominant in the UK.

In his address on Thursday night, Ramaphosa said: “We both agreed that decisions of this nature should be informed by science and are hopeful of a positive outcome when the issue comes up for review in the coming days,” he said.

Ramaphosa said the health department was still working on a vaccination certificate, which would be in line with international best practice and World Health Organisation guidelines.

This week Western Cape finance and economic opportunities MEC David Maynier said remaining on the UK’s red list could derail that provinces economic recovery.

Travellers returning to the UK from SA must spend 10 days in quarantine at a cost of more than £2,000 (R40,500) thus making travel between the two nations extremely expensive

Before Covid-19 struck, the Western Cape counted tourism as one of the mainstays of the provincial economy with the UK a key source market.

Earlier in September, the UK high commission said via Twitter that it remained “concerned about the continued presence of Beta [Covid-19 variant first identified in SA] given its potential ability to circumvent vaccines”. The UK has said it will review its decision in the coming weeks, amid growing pressure from the SA government and tourism industry players.

Former UK cabinet minister Peter Hain this week also drummed up pressure on the UK to release SA from its travel red list, labelling the decision “ludicrous”, as it was not backed up by science.

“SA has a low infection rate: just a tenth of the infections in the UK and a similarly low fraction compared with much of Europe.  It has only one variant in circulation, exactly the same variant as in the UK, Delta,” Hain said in a statement on Thursday.

“Its third wave peaked in July and it is about to enter the summer peak tourist season with British tourists — the biggest group of visitors — desperate to enjoy the country’s unbeatable visitor opportunities.”

Hain joins tourism body Satsa and several other key stakeholders, as well as the SA government in trying to get the UK to reverse its decision that could further cripple the already under pressure tourism industry.

The tourism industry lost close to 500,000 jobs, saying it would intensify efforts to get SA off the list.

Hain’s comments came after scientific experts from the UK and SA met on Monday to discuss the latest trends concerning Covid-19 in SA, which has seen a steady decline in new cases.

The SA scientists, led by acting director-general in the health department Nicholas Crisp, sought to address key criteria applied by UK government scientists in advising ministers on designations under the traffic light system.

“The hastily convened meeting between UK and SA scientists this week has merely confirmed what every SA has known for a month — that there isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to support the UK’s continued travel ban,” Satsa CEO David Frost said.

“The UK is now proposing to take a further 10 days to deliberate on the information. Meanwhile, jobs will be lost and businesses destroyed. If the data supports our removal from the travel red list, the UK has a moral obligation to act now before we lose another summer season.”

The UK is traditionally among the most important tourism markets for SA, with 430,000 people having visited in 2019, the year before the pandemic brought the industry to a standstill.

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