South Africa’s UK ban doesn’t make any sense: CEO

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) chief executive Busi Mavuso has criticised the UK government for keeping South Africa on its ‘red list’ of countries.

The decision is bad for development in South Africa and bad for the two countries’ economic ties, she said in her weekly open letter on Monday (20 September). Travellers from red-listed countries must quarantine on arrival for 11 nights in government-controlled facilities at considerable expense.

This is a dramatic disincentive to tourists and an effective barrier to business people as they can seldom afford 10 days of forced isolation, said Mavuso.

“It is difficult to understand the decision. It was announced at the same time that Turkey would be removed from the red list, yet that country is experiencing over 23,000 new cases per day with a population of 82 million, while South Africa is at 4,000 and declining, with a population of 58 million. Infection rates are far higher in other countries that have already been off the red list.

“Of course, both Turkey and South Africa are below the infection rate in the UK itself – which is running at 29,000 with a population of 37 million.”

Mavuso added that the Beta Covid-19 variant is no longer prevalent in South Africa, making up just 1% of infections. Just like in the UK, most infections are caused by the Delta variant, she said.

“The UK’s decision appears to be motivated by the presence of the Beta variant, yet its science on this is outdated. Contrary to initial indications, vaccines have proven effective against the Beta variant, including Astra Zeneca, widely used in the UK.

“New variants discovered in South Africa have proved to be less infectious and are reducing. South Africa has among the best genomic sequencing capabilities in the world, and therefore there should be high confidence that it would identify any dangerous new variant quickly.”

The UK is now an outlier 

Mavuso said that the UK is now an outlier in its treatment of South Africa-sourced travellers. The European Union, Canada and the United States now allow vaccinated travellers from South Africa without further restriction

“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. Apart from business links, many families split between the two countries have been unable to see each other for over 18 months because of the travel restrictions.

“This has been exacerbated by constant stories of the poor treatment of travellers in the UK’s government-controlled quarantine centres, despite the R46,000 cost of the 11-night quarantine,” she said.

Reviews of the red list take place every three weeks. The UK must take a balanced approach in future considerations of South Africa.

Mavuso said that there now needs to be clarity on the scientific basis for the risk categorisation of South Africa and due regard for the business, cultural and developmental relationship between the two countries.

Read: Updated travel restrictions for South Africa

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South Africa’s UK ban doesn’t make any sense: CEO