New travel rules see the return of big ships and airline food

27 October 2021 - 12:19
The government's decision to further ease travel restrictions is a welcome shot in the arm for the struggling travel industry. Stock photo.
The government's decision to further ease travel restrictions is a welcome shot in the arm for the struggling travel industry. Stock photo.

In an early Christmas present for South Africans, cruise ships will again be allowed to set sail in local waters, while domestic airline passengers will again hear the hallowed words “chicken or beef?”

This follows the gazetting of new level 1 travel regulations which permit cruise ships to call at SA ports from November and allow airlines to serve pre-packaged in-flight meals.

However, clumsy wording in the gazette notice caused brief panic among airline operators as it implied domestic airline passengers were required to present a negative Covid-19 test before being allowed to fly.

“That’s news to me,” a bemused Kirby Gordon, FlySafair marketing manager, told TimesLIVE.

Gordon, who took a domestic flight on Sunday, noted that no-one had asked him for a negative Covid-19 test before boarding.

“We haven’t seen anything come our way about the requirement for a negative PCR test to fly domestically,” he said.

Linden Birns, MD of aviation consulting firm Plane Talking, said the gazette notice was badly worded and referred to international travel.

“That was my understanding when I read carefully again after having kind of choked on my cornflakes,” he said.

Transport department spokesperson Lawrence Venkile confirmed negative Covid-19 tests were not required for domestic flights.

“This provision is still only applicable to international travel,” he said.

The only change to domestic travel is that restrictions around in-flight catering had been lifted and airlines were also permitted to make magazines available to passengers.

Airlink CEO Rodger Foster said the government’s decision to lift the ban on in-flight catering was a welcome development.

Airlines have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic and the sector is expected to take many years to recover to pre-Covid-19 levels.

Cruise industry 'delighted' to resume

Restrictions concerning cruising have also been lifted, opening the way for SA’s struggling cruise industry to again start offering voyages.

The sector was hard-hit from the beginning of the pandemic as governments worldwide clamped down on the movement of passenger ships in their waters.

Local cruise operator MSC Cruises SA had to cut short its cruise season at the beginning of 2020 and missed the 2020-21 season due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Cruise vessels will be allowed back into SA waters from November, the start of the local summer cruise season.

“We are delighted to have received confirmation and approval from the government. With it our local season can proceed,” said MSC Cruises SA MD Ross Volk.

The cruise company, which will base the MSC Orchestra in SA waters for the season, had worked with the relevant ports, authorities and destinations to ensure the safety of its guests, crew and communities at the ship’s destinations.

“We have worked cooperatively since last year with all the relevant authorities, ports and destinations to demonstrate our new health and safety protocol can ensure the wellbeing of guests, our crew and the communities MSC Orchestra will visit during the season.

“We look forward to receiving details of the health and safety guidelines that will allow us to finalise our protocol for the start of our sailing programme,” said Volk.

The government gazette notice lists the protocols required of cruise ship operators. These include antigen testing before embarkation, compulsory face masks in all public areas on ships, and screening at all restaurants and entertainment venues on the ship.

Passengers leaving the ship for excursions will have to be screened on their return, while any passengers who show symptoms of Covid-19 will be isolated in dedicated cabins.

MSC Cruises will also require passengers — both vaccinated and unvaccinated — to provide a negative Covid-19 PCR test before being allowed to embark.



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