Several countries and airlines have announced eased travel restrictions for South Africa as governments look to shift towards the endemic phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will lift its entry and transit ban on South Africa and other African countries from Saturday (29 January). Restrictions have been in place since the discovery of the Omicron Covid variant at the end of November 2021.
Those travelling from South Africa will have to obtain a negative Covid-19 PCR test 48 hours prior to departure and a negative rapid-PCR test at the departure airport. Passengers will also be tested on arrival.
In line with this announcement, UAE-based airline Emirates has announced that it will also restore flights to South Africa from Saturday, reopening a number of important routes.
“Flights between Dubai and South Africa will operate as a daily flight to and from Johannesburg, effective 29 January and double daily services from 1 February. Flights to and from Cape Town and Durban will operate daily from 1 February,” the airline said.
“All passengers travelling from Emirates’ African network with Dubai as their final destination require a 48 hour PCR test. Passengers must present a valid negative Covid-19 PCR test certificate with a QR code for a test conducted at an approved facility, and validity must be calculated from the time the sample was collected.”
Australia has also relaxed the requirements for pre-departure testing for international arrivals to the country and will make changes to provide more flexibility for people to demonstrate they have a negative Covid-19 test result prior to departure.
“While PCR tests remain the gold standard test, a rapid antigen test (RAT) within 24 hours is an acceptable indicator of whether a traveller has Covid-19 before flying to Australia. This is consistent with moves within Australia to accept RATs for diagnostic purposes,” said Health minister Greg Hunt.
“In addition to this, the time between receiving a positive test result and being able to be cleared for travel to Australia will be reduced from 14 to seven days. This will reduce wait times for travellers who contract Covid-19 overseas to return to Australia in line with the new domestic isolation requirements.”
The move follows a decision by several states, including South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, to drop all Covid-19 testing requirements for fully vaccinated people arriving from interstate.
In another change to inbound traveller rules, those who contract Covid-19 while overseas will also be allowed to return home seven days after they test positive, down from the existing 14 days. “This will reduce wait times for travellers who contract Covid-19 overseas to return to Australia in line with the new domestic isolation requirements,” the statement said.
Australia lifted part of its travel ban on South Africa in mid-December as part of the general reopening of borders for the first time since the pandemic started. However, this primarily applies to Australian citizens, and significant restrictions remain in place, including a lack of direct flights between the two countries.
A number of European countries are also expected to announce eased restrictions in the coming weeks as the region recovers from a fourth wave driven by the Omicron variant.
Despite these eased restrictions and a decline in local Omicron cases, South Africa still faces various travel bans heading into February 2022.
A mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 28 January, South Africa has 88 ‘major restrictions’ in place from other countries. This is up from around 60 significant restrictions in mid-2021. These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.
Skyscanner data shows there are currently 27 moderate restrictions for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet specific entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests and quarantining.
On Thursday (27 January), South Africa reported 4,100 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 3,594,499.
Deaths have reached 94,651 (+160), while recoveries have climbed to 3,432,829, leaving the country with a balance of 67,019 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 29,702,542.