Covid-19: UK 'rushed' with travel restrictions, says South Africa

A medical staff member of the South Africa Health Department obtains a nasal swab sample from a passenger in a mobile testing unit at O.R Tambo International Airport in Ekurhuleni on December 30, 3030, where passengers that have Coovid-19 symptoms upon arrival are tested. 

Photo credit: Luca Sola | AFP

The UK has placed South Africa and several other neighbouring countries back on the controversial red list of travel restrictions following the emergence of a new heavily mutated coronavirus variant.

But the South African government has since reacted to the UK, saying the move is “rushed,” as they are joined by their neighbours Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Namibia Lesotho and Botswana on the red list.

Direct flights from the affected countries have been banned from entering the UK from Friday noon GMT “until hotel quarantine is up and running from 4am Sunday 28 November.”

“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” said International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor.

This comes after at least 59 cases of the new strain, the B.1.1.529, which is feared to be more transmissible and evades vaccines, was detected in South Africa and Botswana as well as Hong Kong.

Non-UK or Irish residents “will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days” upon arrival in the UK.

Six countries

British nationals arriving from the six countries between midday Friday and 4am Sunday “must quarantine at home for 10 days and take NHS PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8, even if they already have a lateral flow test booking.”

The UK is yet to record a single case of this variant and Health Secretary Sajid Javid said scientists are “deeply concerned” about the new strain.

He expressed fear that its mutations could be “double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant,” and the UK is now investigating the B.1.1.529 strain.

“As part of our close surveillance of variants across the world, we have become aware of the spread of a new potentially concerning variant, which UKHSA has designated a Variant under Investigation,” said Mr Javod.

“We are taking precautionary action to protect public health and the progress of our vaccine rollout at a critical moment as we enter winter, and we are monitoring the situation closely.”

The UK’s decision to reimpose travel restrictions on South Africa comes not long after the Southern African nation was struck off the red list in October.

Travel ban

Previously, Britain’s travel ban almost degenerated into a diplomatic spat with South Africa.

The South African government said the UK’s resolution is a knee-jerk reaction and “will engage the UK government with the view to persuade them to reconsider this decision.”

South Africa is also worried this could also have damaging implications on the economy as the country is currently in the tourism peak period.

Around 500 to 700 people are estimated to be travelling from South Africa to the UK daily and more are expected to move between the two countries during the festive season.

South Africa has started experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, as the country battles to avoid entering into the fourth wave of infections.

Stringent lockdown measures appear unavoidable after 2,465 cases were recorded on Thursday which was double the number of infections recorded the previous day.

Israel also banned travellers from South Africa on Thursday.