Travel from South Africa to Australia
(Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
  • Flights between South Africa and Australia will only resume in April 2022, at the earliest.
  • The latest extension of this flight ban, announced by Qantas' CEO, comes after the airline had planned to return in July, then October, and later, December.
  • Qantas says its ongoing suspension of flights is due to South Africa's slow vaccination rollout.
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Qantas flights between South Africa and Australia are only scheduled to resume in April 2022, by which time travel between the two countries would've been suspended for two years.

Australia continues to be one of the most isolated countries throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with its international borders firmly closed and entry limited to returning citizens or foreigners who have been granted individual exemptions.

A narrow travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand has been the extent of international travel but has since been restricted due to ongoing Covid-19 outbreaks.

This has had a devastating impact on Australia's national carrier, Qantas, which has lost around A$16 billion (R170 billion) in unrealised revenue since the start of the pandemic. This is expected to exceed A$20 billion (R212 billion) by the end of 2021, according to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce who delivered the airline's results for the 2021 financial year on 26 August.

"International borders were essentially closed for the whole year, and there were only about 30 days when we didn't face some level of domestic travel restrictions," said Joyce.

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This is particularly bad news for the almost 200,000 South Africans living in Australia and their friends and family back home. More than 111,000 people travelled from Australia to South Africa in 2019, according to tourism and migration data compiled by Statistics South Africa.

Qantas had originally hoped to return to South Africa in July, but this restart plan was pushed back to October and later to December. Now, Joyce says that flights between Australia and South Africa are only likely to return in April 2022 – "at the earliest" – more than two years after travel between the two countries was first restricted.

"Flights to destinations that still have low vaccine rates and high levels of Covid infection will now be pushed out from December 2021 until April 2022, including Bali, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City, and Johannesburg," said Joyce.

The first international routes to return in December will include flights to "Covid-safe destinations" like Singapore, the United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. Flights to Hong Kong will restart in February.

"The current pace of the vaccine rollout means all Australian states are on track to reach the 80% target by December, which is the trigger for starting to carefully open to some parts of the world," said Joyce.

"One of the biggest unknowns is the quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers entering Australia. If it's 14 days in a hotel, demand levels will be very low. A shorter period with additional testing and the option to isolate at home will see a lot more people travel."

Around 6 million South Africans – representing 10% of the total population – have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with the government hoping to achieve 67% coverage in the first quarter of 2022. 

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