UK, EU ban on SA travel a heavy blow

Johannesburg- South Africa’s tourism industry has been dealt a heavy blow following the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant in the country, which saw the UK and European Union (EU) temporarily ban flights from southern Africa.

The UK’s decision followed concerns raised by scientists that the Omicron variant is more transmissible and has the potential to evade immunity.

The UK said it had barred all direct commercial and private flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe while the UK government reassessed the newly discovered Covid variant. Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic have also announced travel restrictions to the region.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We are proposing, in close coordination with EU countries, to activate the emergency brake mechanism to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the new Covid-19 variant of concern
Omicron,” she said.

South Africa is the EU’s largest trading partner in Africa.

In South Africa, the direct contribution of the tourism sector to  the gross domestic product (GDP) was R130.1-billion in 2018, and constituted nearly 3% direct contribution to GDP. In 2018, the tourism sector contributed about 4.5% of total
employment in South Africa.

Andrew Stark, Flight Centre Travel group managing director, said the news of South Africa being placed on the UK red list was devastating.

“To wake up to this news and be in this position again is simply devastating. We envisage there will be a domino effect with other countries following suit as we have seen before. We cannot emphasise enough how important it is for our country to achieve an 80%-plus vaccination rate so that we can proactively put an end to these situations unfolding,” Stark said.

The country’s tourism industry was beginning to see some green shoots following a decline in Covid-19 cases and the relaxation of lockdown regulations.

Stats SA on Wednesday said measured in nominal terms (current prices), total income for the tourist accommodation industry increased by 56.9% in September, compared with September last year.

Income from accommodation increased by 74.4% year-on-year in September.

The data further showed that in September, all accommodation types had recorded positive year-on-year growth in income from the accommodation. The largest year-on-year increases in income from accommodation were reported by guest houses and guest farms, which surged up to 218.3% and hotels by 100.3%.

The UK last month removed South Africa from its red list after strong lobbying from Pretoria.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor said: “Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries”.

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