South Africa remains on UK's red list - but Egypt, and Kenya move to amber

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South Africa travel UK red list
London Big Ben and traffic on Westminster Bridge (Getty Images)
  • South Africa will remain on the United Kingdom's red list.
  • Travel between the two countries has been severely restricted by the UK's traffic light system which was introduced in May.
  • South African travellers will be quarantined even if fully vaccinated.
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South Africa will remain on the United Kingdom's (UK) red list, as confirmed by the Department for Transport on Thursday, leaving in place restrictions for travel between the two countries.

Travel between the UK and South Africa has been severely restricted over the past nine months. In December, the UK halted travellers from South Africa for fear of the newly discovered Beta variant. In May, the UK implemented its traffic light travel system which categorised countries into three lists – red, green, or amber – according to their respective Covid-19 risk profiles.

South Africa has been on the red list since its inception. Only British or Irish nationals and those with residence rights have been allowed to enter the UK. These exempted travellers have, however, still been forced to spend ten days in quarantine in a state-managed hotel at their own cost of £2,285 (R44,800).

The impact on South Africa's tourism industry has been dire. The UK is the South Africa's biggest source market. Prior to the pandemic, more than 430,000 travellers from the UK travelled to South Africa in 2019. These arrivals dropped by 97% in 2020 and less than 8,000 UK travellers came to South Africa in the first half of 2021.

This critical lack of UK tourists, due to the traffic light system's controversial quarantine requirements, has cost the South African economy R790 million for every month it's been on the red list.

Resistance to the UK's traffic light system has grown in recent months, with opponents criticising alleged inconsistencies in assessments undertaken by the country's Joint Biosecurity Centre.

The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) has led the local charge, arguing for South Africa's removal from the red list. An official petition against South Africa's continued stay on the red list garnered close to 40,000 signatures.

Responding to the news in The South African, David Frost, CEO of SATSA, said that the latest news out of the UK is a "kick in the teeth".  

"This is a kick in the teeth for 1.5 million South African tourism workers who were relying on UK visitors this spring. There isn't a shred of scientific evidence to support keeping South Africa on the red list and the only conclusion left is that the UK government has an irrational fear of South Africa which is prejudicing decision-making," he said. 

"The UK government needs to urgently reconsider this classification to avoid irreparable harm to a relationship with a key ally and trading partner."

South Africa will officially remain on UK's red list

The move comes as part of the UK's latest update to its traffic light system on Friday, which has reduced the number of red list countries.

Moving to the amber list would have been a relief for South Africa's embattled tourism industry. This coincides with the start of the summer season, which is traditionally a boom for UK visitors. It would have allowed South Africans to travel freely to the UK for the first time this year.

Though South Africa is still on the red list, Egypt, Bangladesh, Turkey, Pakistan, Oman, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Kenya have been move to the less restrictive amber list from 4am UK time, Wednesday 22 September 2021. 

Visitors form these countries will have to be fully vaccinated and take a Covid-19 test three days before arriving as well as on arriving in the UK.

Traffic light system to be overhauled

In addition to the latest update on red, amber, and green list countries, the UK is expected to overhaul its traffic light system in early October.

Green and amber list countries are likely to be merged into a single category, consolidating the ease of international movement for all fully vaccinated travellers, according to a report by The Telegraph. There's also talk about replacing expensive PCR testing requirements with rapid lateral flow tests.

(compiled by Luke Daniel and Larry Claasen)

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