The UK government has defended its decision to keep South Africa on its Covid-19 travel red list.
On Friday, the UK government revealed its revised list with eight countries – Kenya, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, the Maldives, Oman, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – removed.
However, South Africa was kept on it, meaning travellers from the country are banned from entering the UK.
The move has not been received well by many especially on why Kenya and Egypt, whose genomic sequencing is below par compared to other countries, were removed from the list and not South Africa.
Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), was critical of the UK’s decision, calling it “really unscientific”.
“Many European countries allow travel from South Africa… we have a smaller number of infections than the UK, similar variant dominating, advanced genomic surveillance, and transparency on science and policy. So why this discrimination?” de Oliveira said in a tweet.
At least 450,000 British passport holders travel to the UK per year.
This is despite the Delta variant, which was first detected in India in April this year, being the dominant variant in South Africa at the moment.
“The Delta variant is present in the United Kingdom just as it is in South Africa so that’s less of a concern for us, [but] the Beta variant is a concern because of its ability to evade vaccine protection,” he said.
Bye said South Africa would be removed “as soon as it is feasible to do so”, further pointing out that there were 54 countries still on the red list.
He also commented on vaccination certificates imposed by South Africa after being asked whether the UK recognised the card certificates.
“The issue here is vaccine certification so its the recognition of each other’s vaccine certificates. And on that issue we been taking as the UK a gradual approach so we started very small, with a pilot recognising the vaccine certificates of a few countries and we are expanding that out, but we’re hoping to expand that into the whole world.
“We haven’t had discussions about that yet. Because we have been taking this gradual approach, those discussions haven’t happened but we are looking forward to having those discussions with the South African government,” he said.
Additional reporting by Gareth Cotterell