A delegation of seven South African officials will meet with UK scientists on Monday (27 September) to discuss South Africa’s continued inclusion on the UK’s Covid red list for travel, the Sunday Times reports.
The team from South Africa – which includes scientists, representatives from the ministerial advisory committee, and health department members – will meet virtually to allay concerns that the beta variant of Covid is still circulating in South Africa.
The meeting has been brokered by the UK high commission, which acknowledged that there were continued concerns around the variant in South Africa and its potential to circumvent vaccines. Local experts have said these concerns are not rooted in science.
“We are just taking a small delegation of people who understand exactly how the science in our system and laboratories is working and will be talking to the people who provide the advice to their government,” said the department of health’s acting director-general Nicholas Crisp.
“They will ask us questions, and we will hopefully be able to provide the answers that they need.”
Under the UK’s travel rules, travellers who have been in a country or territory on the red list in the last ten days will only be allowed to enter the UK if they are British or Irish nationals or have residence rights in the UK.
These travellers are subject to rigorous Covid testing and have to quarantine at a designated hotel at their own cost. A 10-day package costs £2,285 for one adult (R46,000), plus £1,430 for each person over 11. Children aged 5 to 11 will bump the total up by £325 each.
The relationship between Britain and South Africa is an important economic corridor, with Britain exporting R62 billion to South Africa in the year to end-March while it imported R90 billion, said Busi Mavuso, the chief executive of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA).
Before the pandemic, 440,000 UK travellers visited South Africa in 2019, making it the most important overseas market for tourists to South Africa, Mavuso said. They spend R10 billion during their visits. This activity is a crucial part of our tourism industry which directly employs 657,000 people, 87% of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The UK’s decision, therefore, has significantly negative effects on development in South Africa. The lack of a clear rationale for the UK’s decision risks creating resentment towards the country at a crucial time in its engagement with the rest of the world. This is particularly sensitive for South Africans who have close cultural and familial ties to the UK,” said Mavuso.
The UK’s Department for Transport and Health and Social Care published an updated list this month, leaving South Africa stuck on the red list. Only eight countries were removed from the list, including Egypt and Kenya.