SA remains on the UK’s ‘red list’ of banned travel – but British Airways eyes June return

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UK South Africa travel
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  • The United Kingdom has created a "green list" which allows travellers from 12 low-risk countries to enter without needing to quarantine.
  • South Africa remains on the red list, which only allows for residents and citizens to return to the UK – with a mandatory ten-day quarantine in a state-managed hotel.
  • While leisure travel to countries on the amber list is strongly discouraged, returning travellers will be allowed to quarantine at home.
  • Despite South African travellers being banned, British Airways is set to resume flights to and from London in June, with tickets already on sale.
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The United Kingdom has introduced a traffic light system to manage its travel restrictions imposed on visitors according to their country of origin's Covid-19 risk profiles. Travellers from South Africa – identified as a "red list" country – are still banned from entering the UK.

The UK is slowly reopening to international travellers after five months of isolation which was driven by a surge of Covid-19 cases, underpinned by the prevalence of a new variant, in January. This had a ripple effect on international travel, with the UK ordering its citizens to stay at home while other countries, fearful of importing the B.1.1.7 variant, instituted their own travel restrictions on visitors from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

A ban on South African travellers was instituted in December. Only residents and UK citizens have been allowed to return home from South Africa and, even then, they face a mandatory two-week quarantine period in a state-monitored hotel.

British Airways, which previously operated multiple daily flights from London’s Heathrow airport to Cape Town and Johannesburg, suspended its South African route on 24 December. This suspension has since been extended several times.

“Today marks the first step in our cautious return to international travel, with measures designed above all else to protect public health and ensure we don’t throw away the hard-fought gains we’ve all strived to earn this year,” announced UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in welcoming the introduction of new traffic light system which is comes into effect on Monday, 17 May.

The system groups countries into three lists – red, amber, and green – which determine the level of restrictions faced by travellers from those respective regions. These lists, which will be updated every three weeks, take into account the emergence of new variants, public health responses, and current Covid-19 caseloads.

More than 170 countries will be listed in the amber group. Leisure travel to and from these countries is strongly discouraged and all arrivals will be subjected to a mandatory ten-day quarantine at home or in the place they’re staying in the UK. Travellers will also need to complete a passenger locator form, produce a negative Covid-19 test and be retested twice while in quarantine.

The red list, which enforces the harshest travel restrictions, contains 40 countries. South Africa is joined on this list by India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Brazil and others. Only UK residents and citizens will be allowed to return from these countries. They’ll face a ten-day quarantine in a government-managed hotel at their own cost.

New additions to the red list include the Maldives, Nepal, and Turkey.

Only 12 countries are grouped within the newly introduced green list. Travellers from these countries face no restrictions but will still need to complete a passenger locator form and produce two negative Covid-19 test results (one obtained prior to travel and one upon arrival). If, however, the traveller is informed by the National Health Service (NHS) test and tracing team that they’ve been in contact with a Covid-19 passenger, the traveller will need to self-isolate. Green list countries include:

  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Falkland Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • Gibraltar
  • Iceland
  • Israel and Jerusalem
  • New Zealand
  • Portugal (including the Azores and Madeira)
  • Singapore
  • South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
  • St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

And while South Africa finds itself firmly stuck on the UK’s red list, British Airways has confirmed its intention to resume flights to and from Johannesburg in June. The airline’s online booking system shows that while flights in May remain suspended, tickets can be purchased for travel in June and beyond.

British Airways currently lists daily flights between Heathrow and Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International airport, with returning airfares in economy class staring from £480 (around R9,500).

“There are flights operating to Johannesburg throughout June and to Cape Town from 23 June,” said a reply from British Airways.

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