Travel to South Africa: latest advice on the red-listed country

South Africa – Getty

South Africa remains on our red list – to the ire of many – meaning a mandatory 10-day quarantine hotel sentence when you return to the UK.

As summer approaches in the southern hemisphere, heralding South Africa's high season, the country is campaigning harder than ever for its removal from the UK's red list. More than 430,000 British tourists visited South Africa in 2019.

Following the third wave of Covid-19 that peaked in mid-July, cases have continued to fall in South Africa. As of September 21, its seven-day infection rate is 39 per 100,000; a 36 per cent drop on the previous week. By comparison, the UK's current rate is 339 per 100,000.

Following the last travel update, David Frost, CEO of tourism body SATSA, said: “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.

“Turkey’s case rate is triple South Africa’s and rising fast, while Pakistan’s testing and sequencing rates are a fraction of ours – there is no consistency. The UK government needs to urgently reconsider this classification to avoid irreparable harm to a relationship with a key ally and trading partner.”

In the meantime, all we can do is wait. Here's everything we know so far.

Can I visit South Africa?

Yes and no. South Africa reopened its borders to all international arrivals in November 2020, so from their end Britons are welcome to visit.

From the UK side, the Foreign Office is still advising against travelling there and those returning to the UK who have been in South Africa within 10 days of arrival will face a hotel stay with bill of up to £2,285 per person. A pre-departure test and two tests in the days following your return are also required.

The only way to get around this would be to visit another (green-listed) country for 10 days directly after your departure from South Africa, then return to the UK.

When will it come off the red list?

Good question. Several prominent data experts predicted that South Africa had all it needed to be removed from the UK's red list at the most recent travel review in September, but it wasn't to be.

Our South Africa expert Pippa de Bruyn states: “Initial precautions earlier this year were of course necessary, but then the delta variant swiftly overtook the beta variant (the original reason for border closure), and after our third wave peaked mid-July we’ve seen a steady decline in infection rates. South Africa’s sophisticated medical infrastructure allows for constant, reliable monitoring of infection levels, the vaccine rollout is on track, and accessible and relatively affordable testing sites are available throughout the country.”

The only aspect that could be holding South Africa back is its low vaccination rate. Only 18 per cent of the population is double-jabbed so far.

Do I need to take a test before travelling to South Africa?

Yes. You must carry a paper copy of your PCR test, taken within 72 hours before departure. You will also need to fill in a screening form prior to arrival in South Africa.

Do I need to quarantine on arrival in South Africa?

Only if you test positive for Covid-19, in which case you'll need to quarantine as a designated site for 10 days at your own expense.

Are flights operating?

Yes. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are the only airlines currently running direct flights (though few and far between) from London to South Africa, but other carriers with stopover routes include KLM, Lufthansa and Qatar.

Will my insurance be valid if I go?

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) currently warns against all but essential travel to South Africa. This means that, unless you have a special travel insurance policy that allows travel to red-listed countries your travel insurance will likely be invalidated.

Is South Africa in lockdown?

Restrictions have eased substantially since the peak of South Africa's third wave. The country is now under 'Alert Level 2'. Social distancing measures are still in place and there is a curfew from 11pm-4am. You can read more about the rules here.

Do I need to wear a mask?

Yes, mask-wearing is mandatory in South Africa in all public places.

How is the vaccination drive going?

Slowly. As of September 21, 27 per cent of the adult population has had one jab, and 18 per cent are fully vaccinated.

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