South African travel
Travel to countries in Europe, for those fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (Image: Sherpa, 17 August 2021)
  • Europe is slowly reopening to South African travellers in tune with the progress of the global Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
  • Austria is the latest country to downgrade South Africa's risk level, with fully vaccinated travellers free from mandatory quarantine requirements.
  • But the United Kingdom isn't budging, despite petitions to have South Africa removed from its red list.
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Countries in Europe are slowly reopening their borders to South African visitors, on condition that they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and, in most cases, can prove compelling reasons to travel.

South African travellers have been some of the most restricted in the world throughout 2021. Although most countries have self-isolated during the pandemic, the discovery of the Beta variant – which is more transmissible and vaccine-evasive than the original Covid-19 strain – played a prominent role in shutting South African travellers out from the rest of the world.

But the global vaccine rollout, which has reached more than 4.7 billion people, is paving the way for the resumption of international travel. The detection of other Covid-19 mutations – namely Delta, which is more transmissible than Beta and dominant in most parts of the world – has also started to shift the focus away from the "South African variant" narrative which persisted for most of the year.

Germany is a recent example of this shift. After much petitioning by frustrated couples, students, and workers, Germany ended its strict seven-month travel ban on South Africans by revising its "variants of concern" categorisation.

Being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 allows travellers – incoming and returning – to avoid a mandatory quarantine period, which ranges from five days to two weeks. This reprieve is crucial in stimulating international movement for both business purposes and tourism.

South Africa travel
Travel to countries in Europe, for those fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (Image: Sherpa, 8 July 2021)

Despite being gripped by a third wave of Covid-19 infections, South Africa has been removed from several red lists in Europe over the past month. In addition to Germany, the most notable travel changes have come from Spain, France, Switzerland, and Finland which now all allow fully vaccinated South African travellers to enter.

But being vaccinated isn't the only exonerating factor. In most cases, leisure travel remains off limits and visitors will need to provide compelling reasons – like work and family responsibilities – to be permitted clearance to enter.

Austria is the latest country to downgrade South Africa's risk level, following the same reasoning used by Germany in identifying Delta as the dominant variant throughout Europe and South Africa.

Travellers are considered full vaccinated – and therefore not required to quarantine in Austria – 22 days after they've received their second Pfizer dose or single Johnson & Johnson dose.

And although European travel options are opening to South Africans, the United Kingdom is still closed to visitors, whether they're vaccinated or not. This is a major concern for South Africa's tourism industry, which attracted more pre-pandemic visitors from the UK than any other country in Europe.

The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) is lobbying for South Africa to be removed from the UK's red list, arguing, like other petitions have, that the travel ban is not based on scientific evidence concerning Covid-19 variants. 

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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