Fake Covid-19 tests as damaging to SA travel as new variant, says Airlink CEO

Business Insider SA
Fake Covid-19 test South Africa
(Getty Images)
  • Large countries, including the US and the UK, have banned South African travellers due to the 501Y.V2 Covid-19 variant.
  • But the prevalence of fraudulent PCR tests in South Africa, which are required for international travel, is of equal concern, according to the CEO of regional carrier, Airlink.
  • And South Africa, unlike other countries, has yet to enforce a standard authentication system and align with global best practice.
  • For more articles, go to

While the 501Y.V2 variant, which was first detected in South Africa, is partly to blame for ongoing travel bans placed on the country, its failure to combat fraudulent PCR test result certificates may be as damaging, according to the CEO of regional carrier, Airlink.

The global vaccine rollout is likely to beckon the revival of international travel, as countries achieve desired levels of population immunity and the pandemic’s impact is lessened. But for South Africa, which has been subjected to a slew of travel bans and hurdles in the path of its vaccination programme, recovery in the tourism and aviation industry will be delayed.

“I think there is going to be a global requirement that if you are going to be travelling internationally you are going to have to hold a vaccination passport,” Airlink CEO Rodger Foster told Business Insider South Africa. Foster’s predictions echo those shared by several international airlines which are currently trialing the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Travel Pass.

“So, you’ll have to have a vaccination and you’ll have to have proof of it and, whatever the regulation is, it may be that every six months, you’ll have to have a refresher [vaccine booster]. I do believe that when people have vaccination passports they are going to wish to travel a little bit more liberally… because their risk of infection will be subdued.”

This shouldn’t be too much of an issue between first-world countries and those which are already well on the way to reaching population immunity via successful vaccination programmes. But, for South Africa and other developing nations, this predicted requirement is likely to limit travel options.

The answer to this conundrum, at least for the foreseeable future, lies in ongoing testing protocols, which currently require that travellers provide a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of departing from or arriving in South Africa. This extends, in varying forms, to the destination country.

“Regardless of the requirement for a vaccination travel pass, the requirement of a negative PCR 72-hour test is going to stick until this pandemic is over and the threat of infection is gone,” says Foster.

And although much of the blame for dozens of countries banning travellers from South Africa has been placed on the prevalence of the 501Y.V2 variant, Foster believes that government’s poor control measures on PCR testing is a bigger problem. It's also an easier issue to solve compared to the ever-mutating virus.  

“There are travel bans to and from South Africa for specific reasons and it’s not just because of the South African variant [although] that’s part of it, and I feel it’s been dramatically sensationalised, but there are other reasons” explains Foster.

“A number of false, forged or fraudulent PCR tests have been detected and South Africa has been slow to respond to the fraud.”

Foster cites Mozambique as a prime example for South Africa: it has implemented stern control measures to limit fraudulent PCR test certificates. All documents are printed with a QR code which can be scanned to verify authenticity.

“But you can’t do that with any test that is done here in South Africa, so a lot of countries have invoked travel bans because they don’t trust the PCR test in the hands of the traveller due to the number of forgeries.”

Enforcing a nationwide authentication measure for all PCR tests is relatively straightforward, he believes.

Implementing a fool-proof solution will go a long way in realigning South Africa with international best practice and ultimately result in a quicker recovery and resumption of global travel, says Foster.

“We could quite quickly close that door, but nobody is focusing on that at the moment. The travel bans to and from South Africa are going to remain until we start getting in tune with global best practice on issues like the authentication of PCR tests.”

Receive a daily news update on your cellphone. Or get the best of our site emailed to you

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.