South Africa travel to Ireland
Ireland, County Kerry, Ring of Kerry, Kenmare, Henry Street (Getty Images)
  • The Republic of Ireland is the latest country to ease travel restrictions for South African visitors.
  • Under the new regulations, fully vaccinated travellers – or those with official proof of recovery from Covid-19 – are not required to quarantine.
  • But its neighbour, the United Kingdom, is unrelenting in its ban on South African travellers despite fierce lobbying.
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South Africans are now able to travel to Ireland and avoid a mandatory quarantine period if fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The new regulations, which came into effect on Friday, remove South Africa from Ireland's highly restrictive "list of designated States".

Europe's slow but steady reopening to South African travellers continues to progress, with Ireland the latest country to lighten restrictions. The Republic of Ireland recently made sweeping changes to its travel policy by removing 23 countries – including South Africa – from its list of designated States.

This classification kept South Africans out of Ireland for most of the year, with unvaccinated travellers needing to complete a 12-day mandatory quarantine period in a designated hotel – at their own cost of approximately €1,875 (R32,000) – and vaccinated visitors required to self-isolate.

Under the new classification, fully vaccinated travellers from South Africa won't need to endure any period of isolation or quarantine. Ireland recognises travellers as being fully vaccinated seven days after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and 14 days after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab.

A valid proof of recovery from Covid-19 in the past 180 days – with a medically certified positive RT-PCR test result – will also negate quarantine measures. Unvaccinated travellers without proof of recovery will still need to quarantine. If, however, the traveller tests negative for Covid-19 after five days since arriving in Ireland, they will be able to leave quarantine.

All visitors will need to complete and submit a Passenger Locator Form before departing to Ireland. It's in this form that the traveller will need to declare their vaccination status or provide proof of recovery information.

And while the recent move by Ireland comes as a welcome sign of the resumption on international travel – specifically for South Africans who have been heavily restricted due to the emergence of the Beta variant in late 2020 – the United Kingdom's (UK) unrelenting ban continues to draw ire.

Despite being neighbouring countries, the differences in Ireland's and the UK's approach to easing travel restrictions are worlds apart.

The UK's traffic light travel system, which categorises countries according to their respective Covid-19 risk profiles determined by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), is hurting South Africa's tourism industry. It's estimated that being on the UK's red list since May has cost South Africa’s economy more than R2.4 billion, or R26 million a day, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

The red list only allows for the return of British and Irish nationals or third country nationals with residence rights in the UK. Even these exempted travellers need to endure a ten-day quarantine at a cost of £2,285 (R45,626).

Although lobbying efforts to have South Africa removed from the red list have gathered momentum, with the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) leading the charge, the UK remains unshaken in its position.

An official petition calling for South Africa to be removed from the red list has amassed almost 30,000 signatures in less than a month.

"We will not compromise on the progress we have made on our vaccine programme by allowing people to freely mix abroad and return or travel to the UK without proper checks and procedures," the UK's Department for Transport said in response to the petition last week, citing "known variants of concern".

Satsa CEO David Frost has slammed the UK's claims of relying on the "latest scientific data and public health advice" to keep South Africa on the red list. The argument posed by Frost and other lobbyists is that Covid-19 infections in both South Africa and the UK are now being driven by the Delta variant.

"Furthermore, South Africa's infection rate is tracking well below the UK and several European countries on the amber list," said Satsa in a statement in response to the UK's reply.

"Following the evidence, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the US and China are among those which have all reopened travel to South Africa. The UK's response looks increasingly anomalous."

And it doesn't seem like the UK's stance on South Africa is set to change anytime soon. The UK updated its list of countries on the green, amber, and red lists on Monday. South Africa remains on the red list – alongside 62 other countries – with no mention of an upcoming change.

The next update is only expected after 20 September. Satsa still hopes that South Africa will be removed from the red list by October. Once the petition reaches 100,000 signatures it is considered for debate in the UK parliament. At the current rate, it will only reach this milestone in November, which is almost a year since travel between South Africa and the UK was first restricted due to the Beta variant. 

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