To date, according to Bloomberg, more than 2.23bn COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered worldwide, allowing millions of vaccinated people to return to a state of relative normality and to start exercising their pent-up demand for international travel.
However, while many countries are relaxing regulations for vaccinated and recovered COVID-19 patients since the introduction of their vaccination programmes late last year, South Africa’s regulations have remained unchanged – the traveller, whether vaccinated or not, and whether recovered or not, must produce a negative certificate from a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure.
This needs to be updated urgently, say industry representatives, and here’s why.
“Asata is in favour of a simple policy that would allow unrestricted entry/re-entry to South Africa for travellers who are able to prove that they have been fully vaccinated, while those who continue to test positive after recovering from COVID-19 should be allowed to enter/re-enter the country, on condition that they can produce a COVID-19 medical recovery certificate. Meanwhile, the existing requirement of a negative 72-hour PCR test for entry/re-entry to South Africa, could continue to be maintained for all other travellers,” said CEO of Asata, Otto de Vries.
“Despite the increase in vaccinated and COVID-19-recovered populations around the world, the South African government has not yet updated its policies in terms of easing entry restrictions for these travellers. This is urgently required to stimulate travel and allow the travel industry to recover. We have highlighted this matter to the TBCSA, which is lobbying for these policies to be updated,” he said.
Owner of JMC Travel, Jenny Kutlu, told Tourism Update that there was strong evidence showing that COVID-19-recovered patients could test positive for COVID-19 for up to 90 days after recovery, despite being fully recovered from the virus and no longer infectious. Kutlu said South Africa’s ruling, which allows travellers to board flights to South Africa only if they are in possession of a negative PCR test, was prohibitive for travel and could result in instances where South African travellers (who had become infected with the virus and since recovered) were stranded overseas unable to re-enter their own country. She appealed to industry associations to bring this to government’s attention and insist that government review these restrictive regulations.
“Globally, many countries have updated their travel regulations to make allowances for passengers who are not infectious but still display as positive for up to 90 days when taking a PCR test,” said Kutlu, drawing attention to a Netherlands PCR test ruling exemption as an example (https://www.government.nl/topics/coronavirus-covid-19/visiting-the-netherlands-from-abroad/mandatory-negative-test-results-and-declaration/exemptions). The Netherlands ruling states the following: “Some people continue to test positive for a long time after having had coronavirus, even when they no longer have symptoms and are no longer infectious. If you have had coronavirus and are unable to present a negative PCR test result, you can travel to The Netherlands if you can present the following documents:
- A positive PCR test result or an antigen test result on a sample collected two to eight weeks before travelling;
- A positive PCR test result based on a sample collected no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in the Netherlands;
- A negative rapid test result based on a sample collected no more than 24 hours before boarding.
If your rapid test result is also positive, you can travel to The Netherlands if you can present the following documents:
- A positive NAAT (PCR) test result based on a sample collected 2 to 8 weeks before travelling;
- A positive NAAT (PCR) test result based on a sample collected no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in The Netherlands;
- A doctor’s certificate issued no more than 72 hours before boarding, stating that you are no longer infectious. The doctor’s certificate must be written in either Dutch, English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish. The certificate must also bear the logo, stamp or other official mark of the issuing doctor or medical organisation.”
TBCSA CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, agreed that South Africa needed to change its travel regulations in line with these international trends. He said he had already raised these points at Nedlac (the National Economic Development and Labour Council), which is a platform where government engages with business communities.
“This matter is a priority for the TBCSA. South Africans who have recovered from COVID-19 and are no longer infectious should be permitted to board their return flights and come home but the existing regulations do not currently allow for this. We have raised this matter with government and are also lobbying for the PCR test requirement for vaccinated travellers to be dropped to allow these populations to travel more freely. We understand that the government is looking into our concerns but it will take some time for updates to be implemented,” said Tshivhengwa.