Molefe Seeletsa
Digital Journalist
3 minute read
29 Nov 2021
3:08 pm

Flights to UK will resume on Wednesday but SA remains on red list

Molefe Seeletsa

The UK has defended its decision to keep South Africa on its Covid-19 travel red list.

British Airways passengers queue inside Heathrow airport Terminal 5 to check in for their flights in London on 29 May 2017. Picture: Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Direct flights between South Africa and the UK are set to resume on Wednesday.

The British government and a number of other countries – including the US – imposed a travel ban on South Africa following the detection of a new Covid-19 variant known as Omicron.

The new Covid variant was detected initially in three cases in Botswana, six in South Africa, and one in Hong Kong in a traveller returning from South Africa.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) has argued that there is no scientific basis for banning travel from South Africa over the Omicron variant, the country remains on the UK’s red list despite the travel ban being lifted.

Quarantine

Speaking to eNCA on Monday, UK high commissioner to South Africa, Antony John Phillipson, provided clarity on the restrictions have been put in place on travellers arriving in Britain.

“Entry will be restricted I’m afraid to those who are either UK, Irish nationals or those who have the right to residence [in the UK]. [There are] those who will have to undergo mandatory quarantine for 10 days, but those flights will resume, yes,” he said.

Phillipson defended the decision to put South Africa on its travel red list.

“It’s not a decision we took lightly. It was a decision we took quickly because of the concerns that were being expressed by scientists all around the world, not just here in South Africa, about the nature of this new variant.

ALSO READ: SA companies with UK headquarters to be badly impacted by travel ban

“It was a variant of interest in the UK and we simply did not know and we still don’t know how much risk this poses to our public healthcare system and to the vaccine programme that all of us are reliant on.

“Over the course of this pandemic, a number of countries have had to react in certain ways to restrict travel between themselves and other countries. The UK is not unique in this,” he further said.

He added that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had informed President Cyril Ramaphosa that restrictions would be lifted “as soon as it was possible to do so”.

“We are very aware of the impact that this has on South Africa’s economy, especially its tourism industry. We don’t want to be in this position any longer than we have to, which is why we have to work fast and work together to understand the challenges that this variant poses to us,” Phillipson continued to say.

The travel restrictions have already severely impacted trade and tourism between South Africa and the UK.

At least 450,000 British passport holders travel to the UK per year.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s (Dirco’s) spokesperson Clayson Monyela said on Monday that the department was hoping to find common ground with the UK to be removed from the list.

READ MORE: Covid variant: SA being ‘punished’ for ‘excellent science’, says Dirco

“The tourism industry is a potential catalyst to the economic recovery that we seek to see in our country. The UK, for example, remains one of the largest sources of tourist arrivals in South Africa.

“We’re engaging and we are hopeful that given that we’ve got very solid and cordial relations with all these countries, we consider them to be friends and partners,” Monyela said.