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Full transcription by ASATA: Department of Transport Coronavirus Travel Ban Briefing

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In attendance:

Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula

Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi

Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan

Managing Director of ACSA, Nompumelelo Mpofu

This past weekend, drastic measures were announced by the President. As departments, we have responded to that. Transport has its entities – ATTNS, ACSA and SACAA. They are key in terms of what happens here at the airport, and dealing with the regulations. Minister of Home Affairs deals with border control. We have the Minister of Public Enterprises. Some of the airlines are under him. 

As a sector, we are continuously putting in place measures to mitigate the risks. Assessment exercises have been carried out across all our airports in accordance with WHO advisory to ensure that screening measures to limit the risk of exportation or importation of the disease are implemented. Since then, the airports company has procured and distributed masks. The Civil Aviation Authority has issued guidelines for infection control for all airlines, handling and so on. 

Of importance is the fact that cabinet resolved, as announced by the Honourable President, that travel restrictions to the currently identified high-risk countries including South Korea, Italy, Spain, Iran, Germany, USA, UK and China. 

We are currently seized with the finalisation of the regulations that will legally support the implementation and the enforcement of these regulations. We’ll finalise these regulations by the end of business today working with the following entities of the Department of Transport, SACCAA, Civil Aviation Authority, ACSA, and ATNS Airport Traffic. These regulations will then be gazetted tomorrow.

As of the 18th, the travel ban, in terms of the declaration by the President will kick in tomorrow. These regulations will be gazetted tomorrow in a special gazette. 

The regulations provide for a ban of passenger air travel from the countries listed above. They will provide powers to the aviation authorities to have the power to prevent, decline authorisations for aircraft to land. The applicable laws provide for the minister to consult the aviation entities in the drafting of such regulations. 

Once the regulations are gazetted, a ministerial order will be communicated to ACSA and the other entities for implementation with the effective date indicated and included therein. Official communication will be made in line with the relevant protocols by the entities to all affected companies and foreign nationals.

The exception to this rule would be the diplomats serving in SA in line with the provisions of the Vienna Convention. These will be treated the same way that returning South African citizens are treated but can’t be refused entry back home. 

In anticipation of the implementation of these regulations and the enforcement of the travel bans, the entities in aviation have now finalised their implementation plans. 

The Department of Transport has reviewed these plans and approved them. These operational plans include amongst other measures summarised: 

  • 1. Should the foreign nationals from the high-risk countries be airborne and land in the country, ATNS together with ACSA will follow the process that they have in place. The aircraft will be redirected to a remote parking apron and the relevant authorities will be notified. Meaning: if there is anyone from the countries that have been banned on the aircraft – this will apply. 
  • 2. In a case where some of the passengers from high-risk countries arrive in SA connecting or transiting to other neighbouring countries, the airport authorities, port health, together with the immigration team will conduct a robust assessment and do a thorough travel history check to implement quarantine where required. 
  • 3. It is important to know that all South African citizens returning from high-risk countries, port health services will conduct health checks including the clinical assessment and quarantine as has already been happening. 
  • 4. Charter operators will be rerouted to International airports that have the port health capability to manage a suspected case. The following international airports have the necessary capacity and will be ready to handle charter flights: ORTIA, Lanseria, KSIA, Uppington, Polokwane, Braamfisher Bloemfontein, Kruger Mpumalanga International, Pilanesburg, PE and CPT. 

It is important to note that  the biggest denominator on us implementing quarantine will be based on travel history not nationality. This process deals with stigma issues. This is time for solidarity not stigmatisation. Since the travel ban announcements, some of the airlines have already started cancelling their scheduled flights and have notified affected passengers accordingly. 

It should be emphasised that we are at the beginning of the epidemiological curve. The situation is going to evolve every 24 hours. 


South Africa has 72 ports of entry – 53 of which are land ports of entry. Of these, 11 are airports and eight are sea ports. These were evaluated individually and it was decided that:

  •  None of the 11 airports are going to be interfered with. These will run as normal, but with heightened activity and vigilance by port health authorities and immigration officials. 
  •  Of the sea ports: six will be left as is, but also with heightened activity. Two – Saldanha Bay and Mossel Bay – will only allow cargo transactions. No passengers or crew embarkation or disembarkation will be allowed. 
  •  Selection criteria for the 53 land ports of entry that will be closed was based on selecting those where were there is no commercial activity or health facilities. 
    • o Botswana has 17 ports of entry with South Africa. Five will remain operational
    • o Zimbabwe has one port of entry with South Africa which will remain open
    • o Mozambique has four ports of entry with South, of which only one will remain open. 
    • o Lesotho has 14 ports of entry with South Africa, with only five remaining open
    • o eSwatini has 11 ports of entry with South Africa, with only five remaining open. 
    • o Namibia has 6 points of entry with South Africa, of which only two will remain open. 


South Africa will renew expired visas – long or short – for nationals specifically due to COVID-19 reasons for up to July 2020 after which this will be evaluated. In the spirit of international solidarity, if South Africa is asked by another country to safeguard its citizens – in the same way South African citizens were retained in China – South Africa will not refuse them.

For those foreign nationals, who wish to extend their stay not due to COVID-19, they will need to provide another good reason.  


South Africa believes the only mechanism to deny access to high-risk travellers is by imposing visa requirements, even for those nationalities which have not traditionally required visas to visit South Africa. 

Further to requiring a visa, South Africa will also review the Advanced Passenger Process (APP) lists of passengers prior to arrival of passengers by air and flag any potential cases. The flight will be flagged and retained in a special area for checking before passengers are allowed to disembark.

Of the countries mentioned as high-risk in the travel ban – South Korea, Italy, Iran, Spain, Germany, USA, UK, France and China – only Iran and China require visas to visit South Africa. 

  •  South Africa has revoked the over 8,000 visas granted to Chinese nationals, issued in January and February, who have yet to travel to South Africa
  •  South Africa has revoked the 425 visas to Iranian nationals, issued in January and February, who have yet to travel to South Africa

It is important to note that while France was not on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s list of high-risk countries, this was an oversight and it is certainly on the list that South Africa has included in its travel ban. The high-risk countries have been designated by World Health Organization, not the South African Government. 

For the other nationalities who are listed as high-risk, according to the World Health Organization, there will be a requirement to apply for a visa. These will be evaluated on travel history and not necessarily on nationality alone, i.e. a national from one of the high-risk countries who has not travelled to one of the high-risk countries may well be granted a visa to visit South Africa. 

For medium-risk countries – Hong Kong, Singapore and Portugal – we will require nationals to apply for visas providing a certificate indicating that they have undergone a test and they were found to be coronavirus-free. They will then be granted a visa to visit. 

The assessment to allow access to South Africa will be based on their travel history, not their nationality to ensure there is no discrimination. 

There are South Africans currently in various countries throughout the world, as well as foreign nationals in South African who want to return home. This repatriation process will occur after the restrictions come into effect tomorrow, 18 March, and will go on into the next week.

For South Africans carrying two passports – dual nationality – if they arrive in South Africa from a high-risk country, they will be handled in the same way as a national from a high-risj country. Normal protocol will apply. 


Of the high-risk countries, Germany, the USA, the UK, and China have direct flights to South Africa. Airlines with direct flights to South Africa from these countries will have to take the necessary precautions. The medium-risk countries – Hong Kong (Cathay Airways), Singapore (Singapore Airlines) and Portugal – also have direct flights to South Africa. These airlines will need to make decisions about whether it is sustainable to continue. Many global airlines have grounded more than 50% of their planes, and some are thinking about up to 70%. 

SAA has been getting requests in the last few days to consider taking on passengers from the airlines that usually fly on these airlines. This is an early sign that some of those airlines might have to review their services to South Africa. 

SAA itself flies to Frankfurt, Munich, London, New York, Washington, Perth, and Sao Paolo. Each of those will also be under review. Airlines throughout the world are in huge financial difficulties. 

In the next week, or so, we will likely see airlines continue to fill seats as people around the world try to return to their home countries. This will drop off significantly around the world after the majority of repatriation occurs. As a consequence, airlines will have to determine if it is profitable and commercially viable to fly a particular route. So what an airline is doing today, might not be what it is doing in a week’s time.  After this peak and subsequent decline, most airlines will need to be rescued or consolidated. 

At this time, we’re seeing no-shows in terms of aircraft passengers – a reduction of 10%. Passengers are just not showing up on particular airlines. 

ACSA has a good state of readiness because we were the first to be triggered to make preparations for coronavirus. We started as early as 2 March. This included prioritised international airports such as OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town. We have since implemented measures across our entire network of airports across the country. 

By the month’s end, we will be able to give a clearer picture of the direct impact on air traffic. We will provide this at that time.

We are implementing risk management and trying to reduce the impact. We have also put together contingency plans to help alleviate the challenge.


Once the ministerial order is passed, it needs to be communicated to the affected countries (high and medium risk countries), as well as to the corresponding airlines of those countries – so that they do not come to South Africa. However, after this occurs, if an airline from a high-risk country departs for South Africa, and we cannot turn them back, civil aviation regulations state that we will allow them to land. 

They will be directed to a designated part of the tarmac and airport, determined by ACSA. The relevant authorities, including NICD and police, will process the aircraft and passengers. Most probably we will have to send the aircraft back. 


In terms of the ban, there will be no cruising this season. If you had a plan to cruise, it’s now gone. A ship docked in CPT last night full of German people, and they wanted to disembark, get into LH and go back to Germany. It’s not allowed. Our regulations that are operational at present, will not allow that. There will be no disembarkation. Only goods will be allowed in ports of entry. 

We are putting measures to fight the scourge in place. That’s also what we’re doing in aviation. You have seen in the airport, the work that has been done. 

We are happy with the measures, the staff and the management of ACSA, ATNS, all hands on deck. There is a war room functional. Airlines – we’ve got it. Maritime – we’re consolidating. 

When people get challenges, they redirect to SA. Cruise ships pass every day, but they don’t stop. Because of CoronaVirus now, if somebody gets Coronavirus in the deep seas, they look at the nearest place, to South Africa. We now have regulations in place that stipulate: no disembarkation, no cruise ships. The law will be enforced. 


There is no restriction on domestic travel. But, you’ll be encouraged to limit unnecessary movement. 

There will be bigger announcements coming tomorrow. Stay at home, work at home if at all possible. Limit movements. Limit parties. No more parties, no more night clubs, no more taverns. Stay at home – limit – social distance. 

We love this life, but we have to respect ourselves. Domestic travel will depend on the high risk. Nothing is static. Things change over time. There is a command centre checked by the president. Ministers operationalise and implement the command from the President. 

We are ecstatic about how South Africans have responded: very positive, taking decisions even before the drastic measures were announced. No to Jazz festival in CPT. We’re not at each other’s throats, it’s not a political issue. It’s a monumental disaster that is facing humanity in the 21st century. It requires all hands on deck. That’s what all South Africans have been responding to. 

We have big challenges. We will have to take drastic measures as transport in the trains. If people don’t comply, we will have to stop movement of trains. 

The impact of COVID-19 on the travel industry is unprecedented and unpredictable. The nature of the content that is being shared on the ASATA coronavirus microsite is therefore constantly changing. Please check the date of the post to ascertain its recency.
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