Hospitality.co.za
  • South Africa has been on the UK’s ‘red list’ since May, with travel restrictions and quarantine requirements hurting the tourism sector.
  • The South African economy is losing an estimated R790 million for every month it remains on the ‘red list’, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
  • In a bid to save jobs and the sector, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association is lobbying the UK government to revise its ‘red list’.
  • Part of this plan is an official petition which has received more than 26,000 signatures in three weeks.
  • But an official reply to this petition by the UK government leaves a lot to be desired.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The United Kingdom has offered an official response to a petition calling for South Africa to be removed from the country’s ‘red list’ which restricts travel between the two nations. Its hard-nosed reply is a blow to lobbyists and South Africa’s embattled tourism industry.

Travel between South African and the UK was first banned in late-December due to the discovery of the Covid-19 Beta variant. Two months later, the UK government reopened to travellers from South Africa, but with the condition that they quarantine in a state-run hotel for ten days upon arrival. Aimed at creating a more flexible approach to the resumption of international travel, the UK introduced its ‘traffic light’ system in May.

South Africa was promptly placed on the ‘red list’, which only allows for the return of British and Irish nationals or third country nationals with residence rights in the UK. These travellers, although exempt from the ban, are still forced to endure the ten-day quarantine at a cost of £2,285 (R47,416).

Being on the UK’s ‘red list’ is costing South Africa’s economy more than R790 million every month, or R26 million a day, in lost tourism spend, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). Losses since May exceed R2.4 billion. That number is much higher when calculated from the date of the initial ban imposed in December.

With livelihoods on the line, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) is lobbying for South Africa’s removal for the UK’s ‘red list’. Part of this plan has been to officially petition the UK government.

The petition, launched on 5 August, gathered more than 10,000 signatures in less than a week. This milestone required the UK government to respond to the grievances raised in the petition. Lobbyists have waited almost two weeks for a response, and the one which came on Tuesday morning has left more questions than answers.

“We will not compromise on the progress we have made on our vaccine programme by allowing people to freely mix abroad and return or travel to the UK without proper checks and procedures,” the UK’s Department for Transport said in response to the petition.

“Country allocations to the traffic light system are reviewed every three weeks, unless concerning evidence means we need to act faster to protect public health. At the most recent review on 4 August, it was decided that South Africa would remain on the ‘red list’ as South Africa continues to present a high public health risk to the UK from known variants of concern.”

But the UK’s reasoning, citing South Africa as high-risk country due to variants of concern, is central to the fight being led by lobbyists. Although the UK says that its Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) assesses a country’s risk profile according to scientific evidence, the latest data shows that the Delta variant – not Beta – is dominant in South Africa. It’s also dominant in the UK.

“The British Government is treating the thousands of people who have signed the petition with contempt.  It says it’s following the science yet has no data or evidence to back this up. We have illustrated that over 90% of infections in South Africa are Delta, the same variant found in the UK,” Satsa CEO David Frost told Business Insider South Africa in response to the UK’s reaction to the petition.

“We also have expert opinion from the Discovery Health Group that the levels of Beta variant in South Africa would have no effect in the UK should the country remove the South Africa from its ‘red list’. The UK Government has further claimed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t work against Beta. AstraZeneca has confirmed that early fears over vaccine evasion by the Beta variant have been wildly over-stated. If the British Government disagrees with this assessment, it should explain why.”

Despite the uncompromising stance of the UK government, Frost told Business Insider SA that Satsa’s work to have South Africa removed from the ‘red list’ would continue. Once the petition – currently with more than 26,000 signatures – reaches the 100,000-mark it will be debated in the UK Parliament.

“We will continue to push the petition and our lobby work in the UK to provide a soft landing for British politicians to call for the lifting of the ‘red list’ embargo and establish broad political support for that vision,” said Frost.

Satsa still hopes to see South Africa removed from the UK’s ‘red list’ by October.

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