The United Kingdom says it will consider Covid-related data provided by the South African government’s scientists in its next review of the dreaded Red List of countries, which will be updated within 14 days.
According to the Health Department, SA government experts had a meeting with their UK counterparts over the red list of what it deems high-risk countries.
Many South Africans in the UK, and back home in SA, have been outraged – and distraught – by the continued inclusion of SA on the Red List (along with 50 other countries).
In the UK – where over 136,000 people died from Covid-related complications – there are tighter travel restrictions in place to reduce the introduction and transmission of new variants of COVID-19 from countries that the UK government says should not be visited “except in the most extreme of circumstances”.
Travellers from Red List countries are only allowed into Britain if they hold British nationality, and even then they have to quarantine for 10 days in state appointed accommodation – even if they are vaccinated – at a personal cost of at least £2,000. Many cannot afford the price, nor the time… and so they haven’t been reunited with family and friends back in SA for almost 18 months. Some have missed milestones like births, weddings and sadly, deaths. Some shared their horror stories with Carte Blanche on Sunday evening, revealing how the quarantine felt more like a prison.
Some of the reasons for SA’s inclusion on the Red List are believed to be that the UK was using outdated data about the prevalence of the Beta variant. Professor Mendelson from the infectious diseases department at UCT told Carte Blanche that from May to August there was a massive drop in Beta strain cases, and that there have been none in September. The SA cases are mainly driven by the Delta variant, he said. (If you are abroad, you can watch this episode of Carte Blanche on Showmax International.)
The SA government did announce on 16 September that SA no longer had Beta variant cases, however the UK’s Red List (with SA on it) was announced the following day, so probably did not include this information.
SA’s low vaccination rate – only 14.3% – is also blamed for the UK’s reluctance to accept travellers from SA.
According to SA’s Department of Health, the talks also included the latest trends around COVID-19, testing strategies and the prevalence and risk posed to South Africa’s vaccination programmes by variants of concern.
The meeting was set up by the UK High Commission and the South African government to ensure the most up-to-date and accurate sharing of information.
“The insights provided will feed into the next review of UK border measures, which is due to take place within the next fortnight,” the statement read. The UK’s Red List is updated every three weeks.
Recognising South Africa’s vaccine certificates
The UK and local experts also discussed the recognition of each other’s vaccine certificates.
“The UK side explained that, following some initial pilots, it was now seeking to extend its recognition of vaccine certificates around the world as rapidly as possible.”
According to the department’s statement, the UK expressed its willingness to take forward discussions with the SA government on this matter.
Both governments said they support and recognise the importance of vaccination as a way out of the pandemic.
“The UK expressed its gratitude to SA experts for their willingness to share both data and expertise.”
The devastating impact on South Africa without visitors from the UK
In normal non-pandemic years, SA receives about 440,000 holiday and business travellers from the UK (including many expats). SA has 1,5 million tourist workers who are dependent on these travellers for their livelihoods. On average each UK visitor spends about R30,000 in SA, and without these travellers SA is losing R26-million daily in revenue, according to SATSA’s David Frost.
The UK says: “We do not want current travel restrictions to be in place any longer than necessary and recognise the disruption they cause and the impact on people’s lives.”
Sources include Carte Blanche, Dept of Health, UK High Commission in Pretoria, SAnews.gov.za