Covid vaccine certificate headache for South Africa

While South Africans can use their Covid vaccine certificates to enter buildings, attend events and host gatherings – its validity outside of the country is still limited, says health minister Joe Phaahla.

Responding in a recent parliamentary Q&A, Phaahla noted that this also applies to people travelling to South Africa, with no general international standard accepted for vaccine certificates.

“Countries generally do not provide mechanisms for verification of vaccinations in other countries – other than their trading blocs as in the European Union. It is not possible for South Africa to verify vaccination certificates from other countries,” he said.

“The QR codes from most countries are also not readable outside of their own countries. This is for security reasons and to prevent fraud.”

As a way to accept other countries’ vaccination certificates the Department of International Relations and Cooperation has taken responsibility for the negotiations of reciprocity for the acceptance of Vaccination Certificates through the individual country embassies, Phaahla said.

This will provide for the acceptance of the South African Vaccination Certificates by foreign countries and in return the acceptance of vaccination certificates from foreign countries within South Africa, he said.

“Where individuals are experiencing challenges with regards to entering another country, and the South African Covid- 19 vaccination certificates are questioned, this is being handled through the embassies on a case-by-case basis.

“There are no common international standards for the Covid-19 Vaccination Certificate development or its technology use cases. This is an ever-evolving environment within different countries or regions’ specific policies.”

This means it is difficult to give a timeframe around when the foreign verification of vaccine passports will be available, he said.

Travel rules

Phaahla published updated Covid-19 regulations on Wednesday evening (4 May), easing the requirements for travellers looking to enter the country.

Travel into South Africa is permitted provided:

  • Fully vaccinated people must, upon arrival at the land border, produce a valid vaccination certificate; and
  • Unvaccinated people must, upon arrival, provide a valid certificate of a negative Covid-19 test, recognised by the World Health Organisation, which was obtained not more than 72 hours before the date of travel. They may also produce a negative antigen test provided it was not taken 48 hours before travel, or a certificate showing they have tested positive for Covid within the last 90 days.

Outbound travellers from South Africa must continue to comply with the requirements of the country of destination.

While these updated rules have been welcomed by the travel sector, regulations which limit gatherings in the country have been criticised as event organisers are unable to hold big drawcard events which could further attract tourists.

Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa) chair Rosemary Anderson noted that these gathering limits mean many of the international events that are typically hosted in South Africa are still not viable. She added that a lack of certainty from the government means it is difficult to organise events in the medium to long-term, with the industry continuing to miss out.

Under the current regulations, all gatherings are permitted at 50% of the venue capacity:

  • Provided persons are fully vaccinated and in possession of a valid vaccination certificate; or
  • Unvaccinated but in possession of a valid certificate of a negative Covid-19 which was obtained not more than 72 hours before the date of the gathering.

Alternatively, gatherings are permitted for the unvaccinated and those without tests but are limited to 1,000 persons or fewer for indoor venues and 2,000 persons or fewer for outdoor venues.

Read: What South Africa’s new Covid rules mean for masks at work

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Covid vaccine certificate headache for South Africa