Parts of the world are reopening for international travel – but South Africa will still likely face restrictions

European Union governments have agreed to allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated tourists and visitors from countries deemed safe.

Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member states have backed a proposal to waive quarantine for those with coronavirus inoculations approved by its drug regulator, including shots from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, Bloomberg reported.

The approval could be finalised this week and implemented soon after. Unvaccinated travellers will also be able to avoid quarantine if they come from countries that have controlled the Covid-19 outbreak, meaning a 14-day new-case rate of less than 75 per 100,000, according to two officials familiar with the decision.

This would land the US and some other countries on a “white list” which is due to be adopted later this week.

Using this metric, travellers from South Africa would qualify, as the country has reported just 33 infections per 100,ooo people over the last seven days, Reuters data shows. This is despite a steady increase in cases as the country faces a third Covid-19 wave.

However, South Africa is unlikely to be whitelisted, at least initially, over concerns around local Covid-19 variants and a preference for European travel.

Bloomberg reported that the new rules will replace a blanket ban on non-essential travel from most countries outside the EU.

The rules also include a so-called ’emergency brake’, which would allow member states to restore travel bans on countries where risky new variants emerge or contagion rates spike. The European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – has already demanded that such brake is applied for all travel from India.

A number of non-EU travel destinations, including the UK and US, have restricted non-essential travel from South Africa for similar reasons, citing concerns around variants.

mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 20 May, South Africa has 62 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place.

These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.

By comparison, there are currently 92 moderate restrictions in place on South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements which can include taking Covid-19 tests.

Two paths 

With hundreds of millions of people now vaccinated against Covid-19, the coronavirus outbreak should begin to die down in places where a large chunk of the population has been inoculated. But that isn’t happening everywhere.

Instead, two paths are emerging: In countries such as Israel, new Covid cases are declining as vaccinations spread, while in other places like the Seychelles – which has fully inoculated more of its population than any other nation – infections continue to increase or even reach new highs.

One reason for that may be the different types of vaccine being used, Bloomberg reported.

Evidence derived from the expanding global inoculation rollout indicates that the messenger RNA shots developed by Moderna or Pfizer and BioNTech are better at stopping people from becoming contagious, helping reduce onward transmission – an unexpected extra benefit as the first wave of Covid vaccines were intended to stop people from becoming very sick.

Other vaccines, while effective in preventing acute illness or death from Covid, appear not to have this extra perk to the same degree. There are also concerns around holdout countries, specifically in Africa.

Burundi, Tanzania and Eritrea have so far rejected the World Health Organization’s advice to register for Covax, an initiative to distribute vaccines to poorer countries, with some officials downplaying the impact of Covid-19 and effectiveness of jabs that have allowed several countries to begin opening up.

The danger is that while the rest of the world slowly returns to normalcy, the virus will spread in these African nations, mutating into variants that can evade current vaccines, cause deadly new waves and spread far beyond their borders.

“If you allow the virus to continue to circulate anywhere, it allows the virus to mutate,” said Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist from Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, who led a trial of AstraZeneca’s shot in South Africa. “Those variants are going to be a consistent threat not just to those countries — but globally.”

With further reporting by Bloomberg.

Read: Government wants easier travel to and from South Africa – what you should know

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Parts of the world are reopening for international travel – but South Africa will still likely face restrictions