Growing pressure on UK to ease travel restrictions for SA
Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition lobbying for the UK government to remove SA from its red list traffic light travel system aimed at curbing Covid-19 infections.
Tourism authorities in SA say the stringent restrictions have severely affected the industry.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, it is estimated that being on the UK's red list since May has cost SA's economy more than R2.4bn.
The red list rules on the UK government website state: “If you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the last 10 days, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you are a British or Irish National, or you have residence rights in the UK.”
These travellers have to quarantine for 10 days at cost of more than R45,000 and book two Covid-19 tests.
The petition calls for the UK to “urgently review its travel policy towards SA to ensure it is fully aligned with the latest scientific evidence, and therefore remove SA from the travel 'Red List'.
“Red list travel restrictions to Southern Africa are unfair and are inflicting real social, environmental and economic hardship on families, businesses and ecosystems with no scientific justification given, and should therefore be removed,” it states.
In a lengthy response to the petition, the UK government's department for transport said ministerial decisions on allocations to the red list “are informed by the latest scientific data and public health advice, to protect public health and the vaccine rollout from variants of concern.
“From 24 December 2020, visitors arriving into England who had departed from or transited through SA in the previous 10 days were prohibited, following evidence suggesting community transmission of new variants of concern.
“The government took this decisive action to impose additional measures on SA to prevent further domestic infection in the UK. These measures excluded commercially operated aircraft carrying no passengers and aircraft operated by, or in support of, Her Majesty’s Government in the UK.
“From 15 February 2021, international arrivals to England were required to quarantine in a government-managed hotel if, within the 10 days before arrival, they had been in or transited a country to which a travel ban applied. This included arrivals from SA.”
The department said the traffic light system was introduced in May “to provide a framework for a safe and sustainable return to international travel”.
“The traffic light system categorises countries based on risk to protect public health and the vaccine rollout from variants of Covid-19.”
Country allocations to the traffic light system are reviewed every three weeks and at the most recent review last month, “it was decided that SA would remain on the red list as SA continues to present a high public health risk to the UK from known variants of concern.
“We will not compromise on the progress we have made on our vaccine programme by allowing people to freely mix abroad and return or travel to the UK without proper checks and procedures.”
The department said the petition would be considered for debate in the UK parliament if 100,000 signatures are received.