UK to review South Africa’s red list travel ban within the next 2 weeks

The UK High Commission in Pretoria has met with the South African Department of Health and local scientific and health experts to discuss the country’s continued presence on the UK’s travel ‘red list’.

Under the UK’s travel rules, travellers who have been in a country or territory on the red list in the last 10 days will only be allowed to enter the UK if they are British or Irish nationals or have residence rights in the UK.

Bloomberg reported that South Africa has reacted in fury about its continued inclusion on the red list, which bars foreigners outright and forces British citizens to undergo hotel quarantine on arrival at a cost of as much as R46,000. The UK also won’t recognize visitors as vaccinated unless they received doses in a select group of countries, regardless of which shot they were given.

Being included on the red list has placed a significant burden on the local tourism industry. And South Africa has officially exited its third wave of coronavirus infections, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases has said, with daily new infections falling to below 1,000 on Sunday. About 21% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, Bloomberg reported.

Many analysts expected South Africa to be taken off the list during the last review, however, UK authorities chose instead to keep the ban in place. According to the UK High Commission in South Africa, the reason for this was because of ongoing concern over the beta variant of Covid-19, which it said showed signs of vaccine resistance.

Local scientists and experts rejected the claims, saying they were not rooted in fact or science.

Importantly, they highlighted that, while South Africa was the first to discover the beta variant, it is no longer the dominant variant in the country. Over 99% of infections in South Africa are delta variant infections, like much of the rest of the world. There is also no evidence to support the claim that the beta variant shows signs of vaccine resistance.

Meetings

Amid backlash from the South African government and medical community, the UK High Commission met with local authorities on Monday (27 September).

The commission characterised the meetings as a ‘data sharing’ exercise, with discussions focused on Covid testing strategies and vaccination programmes.

It made no commitments on removing South Africa from the red list, but assured that the data shared by local scientists would be taken into consideration for the next review of the list.

“The UK side expressed its gratitude to the SA experts for their willingness to share both data and expertise. The insights provided will feed into the next review of UK border measures,” the health department said.

The commission said that the next review is “due to take place within the next fortnight”.

Notably, the UK’s travel rules are being overhauled from Monday, 4 October, with the removal of the ‘traffic light’ system of labelling countries. From Monday, the UK will do away with the amber and green list of countries and will only have a red list in place.

Only select vaccination programmes will be recognised by the UK –  South Africa’s vaccine programmes is not currently one of them.

According to the UK government, only a full course of the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines is recognized if it comes from a relevant public health body in Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan.

The health department said that the UK and SA experts discussed the recognition of each other’s vaccine certificates.

The UK said that it was looking to extend its recognition of vaccine certificated around the world as rapidly as possible, and was willing to take discussions with the South African government forward on the matter.

“The UK and SA governments both support and recognise the importance of vaccination as a way out of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the department said.


Read: Government’s plan to get South Africa taken off the UK’s red list: report

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UK to review South Africa’s red list travel ban within the next 2 weeks