The UK government says that it will not remove South Africa from its ‘red list’ of countries and risk compromising its Covid-19 programme.
The government was responding to a petition that received more than 26,000 signatures calling for the travel ban to be lifted.
The current measures permit entry to only British and Irish Nationals arriving from high-risk countries – commonly referred to as red list countries – who are required to quarantine in government-managed hotels.
The UK’s department of transport said that country allocations to the traffic light system are reviewed every three weeks unless concerning evidence means it needs to act faster to protect public health.
“At the most recent review on 4 August, it was decided that South Africa would remain on the red list as South Africa continues to present a high public health risk to the UK from known variants of concern,” it said.
It added that an influx of infections from South Africa and other countries could potentially derail its own efforts.
“We will not compromise on the progress we have made on our vaccine programme by allowing people to freely mix abroad and return or travel to the UK without proper checks and procedures. This is just the start for opening international travel, with the UK leading the way with a robust system.”
“As with all our coronavirus measures, we keep the red list under regular review and our priority remains to protect the health of the public in the UK.”
The next red list review is expected take place in the coming days.
A recent study published by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) showed that the South African economy is losing over R180 million every week it remains on the UK’s red list.
Based on 2019 UK visitor numbers and spending, the global tourism body’s research shows these restrictions could represent losses of over R790 million every month. This equates to more than R26 million every day.
“The impact the UK’s traffic light system imposes on ‘red list’ countries is not only damaging the Travel and Tourism sector, but also economies around the world,” said Virginia Messina, senior vice president of the WTTC.
“Our data shows that every day South Africa remains on the UK’s ‘red list’, the country faces losing millions of dollars, effectively delaying the global socio-economic recovery.”
Messina said that the pandemic has also cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in South Africa, pushing more people into poverty. This makes it crucial to restart safe international travel and reduce mobility restrictions, she said.
More than half of all adults have been fully vaccinated in the UK, which significantly reduces the risk of any citizens travelling abroad, the WTTC said.
While the vaccine rollout has picked up the pace, the figure is considerably lower in South Africa.
Therefore, it is critical for the South African government to continue ramping up the vaccination programme to restart international travel and enable economic recovery, Messina said.
The WTTC’s annual Economic Impact Report (EIR) report shows that in 2019, South Africa was among the most popular destinations for UK travellers, accounting for 7% of international visitor spending, representing R9.4 billion.
The EIR also reveals the effect COVID-19 had on South Africa’s economy, with the Travel and Tourism sector’s contribution to the national economy falling from 363 billion (6.9%) in 2019 to just R182 billion (3.7%) in 2020.
International visitor spending also plummeted by 66%, from more than R134 billion in 2019 to just R46 billion in 2020.