South Africa travel to the UK
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22: Social distancing measures in place at the train terminals at Heathrow Airport on December 21, 2020 in London, England. London and the South East have entered a Tier 4 lockdown as a new coronavirus strain is detected in the lead up to Christmas. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/Getty Images)
  • South African travellers are still banned from entering the UK following an extension which will be reviewed on 23 January.
  • Several countries in Southern Africa have also been added to the ban amid a growing second wave of Covid-19 infections.
  • Returning British and Irish nationals, who could previously avoid self-isolation through a “Test to Release” scheme, will be forced to quarantine for ten days.
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The UK has decided to extend a travel ban on all visitors departing from or travelling through South Africa as part of its plan to curb the current Covid-19 resurgence. The initial suspension, announced on 23 December 2020, will last until 23 January 2021 when it will be reviewed according to both the UK and South Africa’s caseload.

The extension coincides with a host of new restrictions which will come into effect on Saturday 9 January. In addition to banning travel from South Africa – with exemptions only applying to returning British and Irish nationals, longer-term visa holders and permanent residents – the UK will shut its borders to visitors from 11 other African nations.

People who have travelled from or through Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Seychelles, or Mauritius since the start of 2021 will be barred from entering the UK.

“The move, in addition to the travel ban imposed on South Africa on 23 December 2020, follows new data on the steep rise in incidence of the new [Covid-19] variant, that has vastly increased the risk of community transmission between nine other southern African countries as well as the Seychelles and Mauritius, which both have strong travel links with South Africa,” the UK’s Department for Transport explained in a statement.

Earlier concerns raised around a “loophole” – which allowed returning British and Irish nationals to enter via connecting flights and avoid quarantine measures – have also been addressed as part of the new regulations.

See also: Ireland reopens to SA travel – but you must still isolate for two weeks

Returning residents will no longer be allowed to enter the UK’s “Test to Release” programme. This scheme, which previously allowed travellers to void the self-isolation period by producing a negative Covid-19 test result once on UK soil, will be revoked on Saturday.

British and Irish Nationals will, therefore, be subjected to a mandatory self-isolation period of ten days, even if they produce a negative Covid-19 PCR test. In line with most international travel guidelines, a negative test result, acquired within 72 hours of the traveller’s arrival, is required prior to boarding.

People sharing a household with anyone self-isolating from these countries will also have to self-isolate for 10 days.

“Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defence, helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks,” said UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

“Passengers will be subject to an immediate fine of £500 (R10,400) if they fail to comply with the new regulations on pre-departure testing.”

Similar fines apply to travellers who fail to complete the UK’s passenger locator form. This form includes passport details, a complete travel itinerary and information relating to the address of self-isolation.

The UK’s decision to extend South Africa’s travel ban coincides with measures recently upheld by Hong Kong.

See also: Denmark and Vietnam latest countries to ban SA travellers, fearing new Covid variant

“Any person who has stayed in the UK or South Africa for more than two hours on the day of boarding or during the 21 days before that day are not allowed to board for Hong Kong,” the government said in a statement.

Ireland is the only country that has officially relaxed travel restrictions imposed on South African travellers, opening borders to visitors but with a mandatory two-week quarantine period.

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