Nine months after the UK imposed the most severe travel restrictions on arrivals from South Africa, it appears almost certain that the country will be taken off the “red list” on or around 7 October.
At present South Africa is one of 54 nations from which arrivals to the UK must enter hotel quarantine, at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.
On Monday evening the British High Commission in Pretoria tweeted a statement made jointly by UK diplomats and the South African government that said recent findings “will feed into the next review of UK border measures” – due in eight to 10 days.
There is growing fury in South Africa at the UK’s continuing insistence on hotel quarantine, which effectively acts as a travel ban – keeping families apart and suppressing tourism to one of British travellers’ favourite long-haul destinations.
Restrictions were originally imposed after the Beta variant of coronavirus was first identified in South Africa in December2020.
Since then the Delta variant has displaced other strains in South Africa, as it has worldwide; there appear to be no other variants of concern; and officially recorded Covid case numbers have fallen to around 5 per cent of UK levels.
After the latest round of “traffic light” changes David Frost, chief executive of Satsa, representing Southern Africa’s inbound tourism industry, said: “There isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to support keeping South Africa on the red list.
“The only conclusion left is that the UK government has an irrational fear of South Africa which is prejudicing decision-making.
“This is a kick in the teeth for 1.5 million South African tourism workers who were relying on UK visitors this [southern] spring.”
In response to increasing national anger, an unprecedented statement was issued by the head of communications at the High Commission and the director of media relations at the South Africa Department of Heath.
It begins: “UK and SA government scientific experts met on Monday 27 September 2021 to discuss the latest trends around Covid-19, respective Covid-19 testing strategies, and the prevalence and risk posed by our vaccination programmes by variance of concern.
“The UK and SA are both leading scientific nations and the meeting was initiated by the UK High Commission and South African government to ensure the most up-to-date and accurate sharing of information.”
The careful wording appears designed to allow British ministers to declare they can remove South Africa from the red list based on newly acquired data.
In addition, the UK’s refusal to recognise vaccinations administered in South Africa – as well as those from more than 140 other countries – was on the agenda.
At present only jabs given in Europe, North America and a few other nations are recognised by the UK for the purposes of avoiding self-isolation on arrival.