Britain must explain strange ban on South African travel

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Both the United States of America and Mauritius have opened their borders for South Africans. However, the United Kingdom is not following suit just yet.

This comes after the UK recently updated its international travelling rules. During the update, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced a simplified system for international travel in light of the success of the UK’s domestic vaccine rollout, providing greater stability for industry and passengers.

The current traffic light system will be replaced by a single red list of countries and territories that will continue to be crucial to protect public health and simplified travel measures for arrivals from the rest of the world from 4 October 2021.

Adding to this, from the end of October, eligible fully vaccinated passengers and those with an approved vaccine from a select group of non-red countries will be able to replace their day 2 test with a cheaper lateral flow test reducing the cost of tests on arrival into England. 

The British government wants to introduce this by the end of October, aiming to have it in place for when people return from half-term breaks.

It was highlighted that when conducting the final regular traffic light review, before the switch to the new two-tiered system, several additional countries and territories were moved off the red list. Namely Turkey, Pakistan, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya. Changes will come into effect at 4am Wednesday 22 September.

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It is unfortunate, however, that South Africa remains on the red list. Botswana, Seychelles and Namibia are also on the red list. However, it is important to note, the UK’s decision to keep South Africa on its list has been met with disdain.

Business Leadership South Africa’s (BLSA) Busi Mavuso has said, “It is difficult to understand the decision. It was announced at the same time that Turkey would be removed from the red list, yet that country is experiencing over 23,000 new cases per day with a population of 82-million. While South Africa is at 4,000 and declining, with a population of 58-million.”

She further noted, infection rates are far higher in other countries that have already been removed from the red list. “Of course, both Turkey and South Africa are below the infection rate in the UK itself, which is running at 29,000 with a population of 37-million,” she adds.

“The relationship between Britain and South Africa is an important economic corridor with Britain exporting R62bn to South Africa in the year to end-March while it imported R90bn. The UK is South Africa’s second-largest trading partner (behind the EU). For the UK, South Africa is the largest trading partner in Africa.”

In advance of the decision, BLSA wrote to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to reassess restrictions that frustrate trade and severely impact the lives of millions who depend on travel for business, education, sport, and cultural exchange. 

The letter was co-signed by BLSA members, including large multinationals with operations in both countries.

Read the full letter here.

The opposing views on the decision do not end there. Speaking to News24, Professor Helen Rees, SA Medical Control Council chair, highlighted that it was important for the UK to share its detailed thinking [on] the scientific reasoning. So we as a country can be offered the opportunity to respond and understand why we are still on the red list.

Rees further pointed out, the reason for this is, she believes many top scientists in the country will not agree with the status at all.

Infectious disease specialist Dr Alastair McAlpine does not believe the UK’s decision is rooted in science at all. The doctor took to social media on 21 September 2021, sharing his view:

As the UK maintains its travel restrictions against South Africa, Germany has done the opposite.

In an announcement from the Robert Koch Institute, the German Federal Government Agency and research institute responsible for disease control. It was noted that Brazil and South Africa had been removed from the high-risk list, alongside Bangladesh, Botswana, Eswatini, India, Ireland’ the West Region, Lesotho, Malawi, Nepal, Portugal’s Algarve region, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Cyprus.

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With the above in mind, what are your thoughts on the matter? 

Share your views in the comment section below.

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