UK bans travel to South Africa over new Covid variant


The UK government has placed South Africa and five other countries onto its much-maligned travel ‘red list’ following the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant in Southern Africa.

UK health Secretary Sajid Javid said that from noon on Friday (12h00, 26 November), flights to and from the countries will be temporarily banned. Any UK nationals arriving from the specified countries will have to quarantine.

The decision comes off the back of a new Covid variant emerging in countries such as Botswana and South Africa, which exhibits an ‘alarming’ number of mutations.

The variant, designated as B.1.1.529 by the WHO, has sparked concerns about its transmissibility, severity and potential vaccine resistance.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) issued an alert on Thursday (25 November), confirming that the variant has been detected in many cases in the country, with more to be confirmed as sequencing results come out.

It appears to be the main driver of a spike of infections in and around Gauteng, with local health officials speculating that it may already be widely distributed across all provinces. The NICD warned that detected cases of the new variant and the number of people testing positive are increasing quickly.

While the impact and significance of the mutations are still uncertain, scientists have predicted that the variant will be highly transmissible and likely to be resistant to immunisation.

Javid said adding the six countries to the UK’s red list was thus about “being cautious and taking action and trying to protect. as best we can, our borders”, the BBC reported.

The countries added to the UK’s red list are:

  • South Africa;
  • Namibia;
  • Zimbabwe;
  • Botswana;
  • Lesotho; and
  • Eswatini.

The UK changed its travel restrictions and requirements in October, moving to a system that deals with vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers, with a shorter list of countries that are outright banned.

The South African government and local branches of multinational businesses worked hard to convince the UK to remove South Africa from the list of banned countries. This has now been undone.

Non-UK residents travelling from red list countries are not permitted, regardless of vaccination status. The rules for red list countries are as follows:

If you have been in or travelled through a country or territory on the red list in the 10 days before you arrive in England, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you either:

  • Are a British or Irish National;
  • Have residence rights in the UK.

Before you travel to England you must:

  • Take a Covid-19 test – you must take the test in the 3 days before you travel to England;
  • Book a quarantine hotel package, including two COVID-19 tests;
  • Complete a passenger locator form.

This must be done even if you have been vaccinated, the UK health department said.

Read: Health authorities on ‘high alert’ as new Covid variant emerges in South Africa


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