UK red list South Africa
(Getty Images)
  • South Africa has been on the United Kingdom's red list since it was first introduced in May.
  • This effectively bans South Africans from travelling to the UK and requires returning residents to quarantine in a state-run hotel at their own cost for ten days.
  • These restrictions have halted South Africa's main source market for tourists, with the country losing approximately R790 million every month.
  • This figure is based on 2019 UK visitor numbers and spending in South Africa, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
  • More than 430,000 UK travellers visited South Africa in 2019. Less than 8,000 UK travellers arrived in South Africa during the first five months of 2021.
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South Africa is losing more than R26 million for every day it remains on the United Kingdom's red list. Total losses incurred by South Africa since the traffic light travel system was first introduced by the UK in May exceed R2.4 billion.   

The UK has traditionally been South Africa's biggest source market for tourists. More than 430,000 UK travellers arrived in South Africa in 2019. Amid the coronavirus-induced halt on international travel between April and December 2020, UK arrivals dropped by 97%.

Fewer than 8,000 UK travellers arrived in South Africa during the first five months of 2021, according to the latest tourism and migration data published by Statistics South Africa.

This is due to South Africa's classification as a red list country. The UK's traffic light system categorises countries according to their respective Covid-19 risks. Travellers from countries on the UK's green list can travel freely, while those from amber list countries are allowed to enter on condition that they quarantine for ten days if they've not been fully vaccinated.

The red list currently features 60 countries, including South Africa. Travellers from these countries are banned from entering the UK, unless they're British or Irish nationals or have residence rights. Even then, these travellers are forced to endure a mandatory ten-day quarantine period in a state-managed hotel.

The cost of this quarantine is £2,285 (R47,416) and travellers need to settle the bill before arriving.

It's these stringent and costly travel restrictions which continue to keep UK travellers out of South Africa, piling further pain onto the country's already embattled tourism sector.

It's estimated that South Africa's economy is losing R790 million every month due to the red list classification. This is according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which based its calculations on 2019 UK visitor numbers and spending in South Africa.

UK travellers brought R9.4 billion into the South African economy in 2019. And although the red list was only introduced in May, travel between South Africa and the UK has been restricted since December, when the discovery of the Beta variant was first announced. Using the WTTC's estimates, the UK's travel ban has cost South Africa more than R5.5 billion in 2021.  

"The impact the UK's traffic light system imposes on 'red list' countries is not only damaging the travel and tourism sector, but also economies around the world," said Virginia Messina, the WTTC's senior vice president, in a media statement issued on Tuesday

"Our data shows that every day South Africa remains on the UK's 'red list', the country faces losing millions of dollars, effectively delaying the global socio-economic recovery."

It's a grave concern shared by local tourism organisations which have banded together to lobby for South Africa's removal from the UK's red list. The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) argues that the UK's traffic light system is not backed by science and has been instrumental in petition the UK government to review South Africa’s classification.

Satsa, like the WTTC, points to the relaxation of travel restrictions in European countries like Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland. These countries recently changed their travel rules to allow South Africans – and foreign residents returning from South Africa – to avoid quarantine if they're fully vaccinated.

The removal of mandatory quarantine measures remains key in stimulating international travel.

"Furthermore, we are also encouraging governments of 'red list' countries to work closely with their UK counterparts to ensure the very latest data is shared, so the country can be moved from the economically damaging red list, to the amber list as soon as possible," said Messina.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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