Government has acknowledged the negative impact of the narrative around the so-called ‘SA COVID-19 Variant’, with the Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, committing to ongoing engagement with foreign governments to manage misperceptions around this.
She told Tourism Update at the official media launch of the Tourism Sector Recovery Plan today (April 22) that the government was doing a lot of work to negate the impact, which has seen, amongst others, negative press reports, flights being cancelled, tours being postponed or cancelled and foreign governments placing South Africa on their ‘Do not Travel’ red lists.
Most recently (April 20), the US State Department changed South Africa’s status to Level 4 ‘Do not Travel’. The advisory states: “Exercise increased caution in South Africa due to crime, civil unrest, health, and drought.”
Furthermore, negative press – including a recent ITV report labelling the Eastern Cape as ‘deadliest place on Earth’ – has also had a massive impact.
Kubayi-Ngubane, noting that media and industry should “call it by its name – 501Y.v2”, said there were concerted efforts from government to ensure the right messages were conveyed to foreign media and governments and to lobby for a changed narrative that focused on science rather than sensationalism and skewed perspectives.
“Amongst others, the Government Communication and Information System Department, arranged a panel discussion on CNN to address this,” she said, adding that she too had appeared on CNN on this matter.
Furthermore, Kubayi-Ngubane has been interviewed by a number of German print and broadcast media, where she said she had managed to address the concerns and set the record straight.
“I have also, amongst others, met with the various ambassadors from our key source markets to appeal to them for intervention on the negative foreign travel advisories and to look at resumption of flights to South Africa.” This included China, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.
“Many of these meetings have been successful.”
Minister of Health, Zweli Mhkize, also serves on a World Health Organization Ministerial panel that, said Kubayi-Ngubane, carried a lot of weight as he would provide the scientific perspective.
South African Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, said labels and “how we repeat those labels” was crucial. He said there was a lot of work to be done to counteract the negative perceptions created by the “variant” narrative.
“And it’s a collective issue – from government to private sector and media. We all need to be deliberate and careful in our messaging,” he said.
Long-term view more positive
The South African Tourism Road to Recovery Volume 2 report highlighted that the efficient and early detection (by South African scientists) of the variant may turn out to be a significant advantage.
The report states: “In the efforts of vaccine developers to adapt both new and existing vaccines to ensure efficacy against a broad suite of emerging variants of concern, variant 501Y.V2 has specifically been targeted in lab and clinical trials as a benchmark of efficacy against variants. This places South Africa, and those wishing to travel to South Africa, ahead in gaining an updated vaccine specifically targeting 501Y.V2 since the boosters are already in production and testing.
“In regions where new or different variants are only just being revealed, vaccine adaptations may take many more months, as additional cycles of development, testing and dissemination would still need to be initiated.”