The prospect of a harder lockdown in South Africa could see it lose out on potential Northern hemisphere travel and tourism in the coming weeks – while international travel suspensions and restrictions remain in place as the country gets hit by a third wave of infections.
The latest casualty is UAE-based airline Emirates which this week walked back on a proposal to resume flights at the end of June.
In a notice published on Monday (21 June), the airline said that Emirates’ flights from South Africa will remain suspended until 6 July 2021, in line with government directives that restrict the entry of travellers originating from South Africa into the UAE.
Customers who have been to or connected through South Africa in the last 14 days will not be permitted on Emirates flights bound for Dubai, it said.
Another route to suffer a delayed return is the Delta Airlines route between Atlanta and Johannesburg. The Delta route was initially expected to launch in October 2020, but due to restrictions and US travel bans, the plan has been delayed several times.
The latest delay pushes back the launch date from July 2021 to August 2021. The airline had also planned to launch a route from Atlanta to Cape Town, but this has now also been dropped.
Restrictions from other countries
A number of source travel markets have also kept restrictions on South Africa in place over fears of possible variant transmission – including the UK and large parts of the European Union.
While the US has lowered restrictions in recent weeks, the country’s health authorities still advise against unnecessary travel to South Africa.
A mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 23 June, South Africa has 83 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place. This is up from around 60 major restrictions before the third Covid wave hit.
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 29 moderate restrictions in place for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements which can include taking Covid-19 tests.
Harder lockdown looms
President Cyril Ramaphosa will hold discussions on the possibility of moving to a stricter lockdown level with the government’s National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) this week.
Addressing the media on Tuesday (22 June), Ramaphosa said that indications are that government will have to increase the measures that it puts in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 – particularly in Gauteng.
Further restrictions and the rise in cases will prolong South Africa’s full re-entry to international travel, with the country already falling behind, according to flight data.
While international travel is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, data published by global travel data provider OAG this week shows that airlines have continued to add flights and seats as restrictions have eased globally.
“Airline capacity is currently around 72.4 million – about one-third pre-pandemic levels and nearly 38% below the capacity on offer in the same week of 2019.”
“We still have some way to go but a recovery does seem underway, and it is becoming increasingly easy to spot the markets that are failing to show any real signs of recovery,” the group said.
One of these markets is Southern African, and the region currently ranks near the bottom of the list when compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Part of the reason behind this drop is hesitancy from major international airlines which are required to follow government regulations where they are based.