The decision by the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to categorise South Africa on Level 4: COVID-19 Very High Risk Assessment Level, is incorrect and should be adjusted to a Level 3, believes MD of Wild Wings Safaris, Onne Vegter.
The CDC uses Travel Health Notices to alert travellers and other audiences to health threats around the world and advises them on how to protect themselves. In November 2020, the CDC adapted its three-level notice system to a four-level system for COVID, categorising destinations into four levels, the highest being Level 4. The CDC strongly advises against travel to any Level 4 destination.
In a recently drafted 10-page position paper – a detailed and evidence-based justification for why South Africa should be declared a safe destination to travel to – Vegter notes that any Travel Health Notification system (US) or Traffic Light System (UK) that places South Africa in a red category or ‘do not travel’ category, is demonstrably flawed and overly cautious in its approach.
“Any such system needs to be based on actual science and evidence, not on assumptions or inaccurate computer modelling, and the criteria used should balance the urgent need to reopen international travel and promote economic recovery with the ongoing need to prevent new waves of COVID-19 infection. This can only be done if a thorough cost-vs-benefit analysis is conducted to help guide the criteria being used to categorise countries or destinations,” he says.
Click here to read the full position paper.
Robust COVID-19 mitigation measures
Furthermore, in a recent letter to members, inbound industry association, SATSA, reiterated that South Africa already had robust systems in place to deal with COVID. The letter states: “Throughout the pandemic, South Africa’s response has been led by world-class scientists and epidemiologists, and praised by the WHO as a model for other countries to follow.”
WHO Health Emergencies Programme Executive Director, Michael Ryan, referred to South Africa’s COVID-19 response as being “incredible” and among the best in the world. South Africa has instituted strict health and hygiene protocols, both legislated and driven by industry through the Tourism Business Council of South Africa's Travel Safe Eat Safe programme.
Hospitality providers, including accommodation providers, restaurants, etc., are subject to these protocols, which include retaining contact details of patrons and guests, including their temperature, for tracking and tracing; mandatory requirement to wear masks, sanitising surfaces, sanitising stations, reducing touch points, capacity restrictions, curfews from midnight to 04h00. “With these protocols in place, it is business as usual for the hospitality and aviation sector,” notes SATSA.
PCR testing is widely available in South Africa. Private laboratories, such as Ampath and Lancet offer PCR testing with or without appointment.
There is also PCR testing at OR Tambo International, Cape Town International and King Shaka International Airports. For travellers wanting concierge PCR testing, there are several private medical providers who provide testing facilities at any accommodation, even lodges in the Kruger. The cost of PCR tests is about R850 (€50) and results take between 24 and 48 hours. Rapid antigen and antibody testing are also widely available.
What about the South African variant?
The SATSA letter further adds that South Africa has managed to end its second wave with only mild lockdown restrictions, without travel bans or border closures or business closures, and without the help of vaccines.
This is despite the fear internationally associated with the 501Y.V2 variant (from the B.1.351 line). “The variant has not been associated with more severe disease or increased mortality, and vaccines have been shown to be effective against this variant,” reads the letter.