OPINION | When it comes to Covid-19, playing by the rules is difficult

Business Insider SA
President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (GCIS)
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa has called out the countries that imposed travel bans on South Africa.
  • He says the bans, which followed the discovery of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, are not based on science.
  • And he wants them lifted immediately.
  • For more stories go to

President Cyril Ramaphosa came with receipts when it came to calling out countries that imposed travel bans on South Africa after local scientists identified a new coronavirus variant.

The Omicron Covid-19 variant has many governments running scared as they fear it has the potential to rapidly increase the spread of the deadly virus.

This has driven them to take unreasonable and poorly thought-out actions like putting in place travel bans on Southern African countries, said Ramaphosa in his address to the nation on Sunday night

He said not only was there no need for these restrictions, it was also against what was agreed to at the G20 summit in Rome last month to “restart international travel in a safe and orderly manner.”

Ramaphosa noted that the G20 Rome Declaration specifically addressed the plight of the tourism sector in developing countries, and a commitment was made to support a “rapid, resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery of the tourism sector.”

Despite this pledge, it did not stop the United Kingdom, United States, European Union members, Canada, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Seychelles, Brazil and Guatemala from imposing travel bans on SA and other Southern African countries.

He called on the countries that have imposed travel bans to reverse their decisions before any further damage was done to the economies in the region.

Ramaphosa was unusually direct when it came to calling out those counties which imposed the latest restrictions.

“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant.”

He added: “The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic.”

The president did not call out UK prime minister Boris Johnson by name, but the latest travel bans just came weeks after the UK removed SA from its so-called red list, which put punitive restrictions on travellers from SA to the UK.

The red list forces travellers from SA to book themselves into a “quarantine hotel”, at their own expense of £2,285 (about R50,000) per person, for 10 days.

SA was widely expected to be removed from the red list when the UK government announced its revision on 17 September, but to the shock of many the UK left it on.

It was only after heavy lobbying from business, and a call between Ramaphosa and Johnson, that SA was removed from the red list.

At the time, Ramaphosa said he and Johnson had agreed that any decisions regarding travel restrictions should be based on science.

“I put South Africa’s case to him which he understood very well. We both agreed that decisions of this nature should be informed by science and are hopeful of a positive outcome when the issue comes up for review in the coming days.”

Ramaphosa said this on 1 October, and less than a week later the country was removed from the list.

Now, less than two months on from this call, the pledge on the part of the UK to make scientific decisions is seemingly in tatters, as it put SA back onto the onerous red list.

The president is not one to show his temper, but he was a touch irate when he stressed: “There is no scientific justification for keeping these restrictions in place.”

All of this has led to uncomfortable realisation.

When it comes to the Covid-19 crisis, Ramaphosa along with the rest of SA are starting to discover that playing by the rules is difficult when you’re the only ones playing by it.

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