Your Coronavirus Outbreak Travel Questions Answered

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ASATA is monitoring this continually evolving situation and committed to bringing you the latest and most pertinent updates and advice. The health, safety and security of our members, employees and all travellers is our highest priority.

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

Q: What travel restrictions are in place in South Africa at the moment?

A: President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on 15 March 2020 that the government would impose the following travel restrictions:

  • South African citizens are advised to refrain from all forms of travel to or through identified high-risk countries such as the EU, the USA, the UK, China, Iran and South Korea. Effective immediately.
  • All non-essential domestic travel is discouraged, particularly by air, rail, taxis and bus.
  • South African citizens returning from high-risk countries will be subjected to testing and self-isolation or quarantine on return to South Africa. The quarantine is compulsory and for 14 days.

It is important to note that the biggest denominator on implementing quarantine will be based on travel history, not nationality. Government has stated that this process deals with stigma issues that it is a 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.

Q: What is the confirmed list of high-risk countries?

A: 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 the World Health Organization, not the South African Government.

The Swiss Confederation (Switzerland) was also added to the list of high-risk countries as of 17 March 2020, according to an announcement by the Department of International Relations & Cooperation.

Q: What are the visa restrictions?

A: South Africa believes that 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 the 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.

The primary changes to visa restrictions include the following:

  1. The visa exemption enjoyed by nationals of high-risk countries – namely Italy, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany, the USA, and the UK – has been withdrawn. Therefore, any foreign national from the listed countries who proceeds to a port of entry without a valid port of entry visa will be refused entry into South Africa. No foreign national who departed from these high-risk countries will be allowed to enter the Republic of South Africa with effect from 18 March 2020.
  • The visa exemption enjoyed by nationals of medium risk countries – namely Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore – has also been withdrawn. Any foreign national from these medium risk countries who wishes to visit South Africa is subject to visa requirements. They are required to submit a medical report attesting to the fact that they have not tested positive for COVID-19 when applying for a visa.
  • Port of entry visas issued to citizens of China and Iran before or on 15 March 2020 have been cancelled with immediate effect and declared null and void.
  • No foreign national who has visited a high-risk country since 15 March 2020 will be admitted to the Republic of South Africa, with effect from 18 March 2020.

The Minister of Home Affairs stated on 17 March 2020 that the assessment to allow access to South Africa will be based on travel history, not nationality to ensure there is no discrimination. In theory, this means that a national from one of the high-risk countries who has not travelled to one of the high-risk countries may be granted a visa to visit South Africa.

Foreign nationals on South African student visas, work visas, or residency permits will not be affected.

The government will continue to regularly issue travel alerts referring to specific cities, countries or regions as the situation evolves based on the risk level.

Q: Can foreign nationals renew their South African visas?

A: 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. 

Q: Will travellers from high-risk countries be allowed to transfer through South Africa’s international airports, if they are only in-transit out of the country and do not enter through immigration?

A: All entry, regardless of compliance with visa requirements, of foreign travellers with ordinary passports, travelling from or transiting through high-risk countries, is prohibited until further notice.

In a case where some of the passengers from high-risk countries arrive in South Africa, 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.

We are seeking further clarity of the particulars of travellers in transit and will keep all members updated.

Q: What happens if a traveller is unable to leave the country due to cancelled flights?

A: For any queries regarding flights, cancellations, and refunds, the airline in question should be the first contact. The aviation industry is changing quickly as the situation unfolds, and airlines will have the most up-to-date, accurate information when it comes to their own policies.

It depends on the airline, but in most cases, the passenger should be given a full refund if the airline has cancelled the flight and suspended all service out of South Africa. The traveller should then try to rebook their flight with another airline.

Airlines that fly direct between South Africa and the high-risk countries will need to review these routes and make decisions about whether it is sustainable to continue.

Over the course of the next week, repatriation will occur on a large scale around the world, following which many airlines will no longer be able to fill seats and will likely cut their service, by up to 50% to 70% in some cases. This means that what an airline is doing today, it might not be doing in a week’s time. After most repatriation has occurred, most airlines will need to be rescued or consolidated.

Q: How will the travel restrictions affect South Africans, or other foreign nationals, travelling out of the country?

A: Government has advised against travel to or through high-risk countries. That said, as long as flights are going, travellers will not be prevented from leaving the country. On arrival in their destination, they will be subject to the local border control measures or restrictions in place.

Remember that travel restrictions are in constant flux as the infection spreads. Check the relevant consulate or embassy before any travel.

Q: What is the procedure for travellers in South Africa to present themselves to be tested? By when and how do travellers present themselves to be tested?

A: Government has stated that all travellers who have entered South Africa from high-risk countries since mid-February will be required to present themselves for testing.

Travellers who must present themselves for testing should phone the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) toll-free hotline (080 002 9999), or a nearby healthcare facility to receive advice on what to do and where to go for testing.

Despite the directive to test all individuals from high-risk countries, health centres may have a different threshold for testing and may not conduct tests on those who are asymptomatic or on the ‘worried well’.

For instance, you may be told that you have to show symptoms such as a dry cough, fever and myalgia (fatigue) AND fall into one of the following categories, according to NICD:

  • Been in contact with someone who has COVID-19;
  • Have worked in or been to a healthcare facility treating people with COVID-19; or
  • Have a severe case of pneumonia with an unknown cause

Testing is widely available – it costs around R1200 in the private sector (Lancet Laboratories announced a fee of R1400) and is free in the public sector. But know that due to the high number of specimens to test, there is a backlog at the moment in the public sector.

Q: Is domestic travel in South Africa still allowed?

A: There is no restriction on domestic travel. But, you are encouraged to limit unnecessary movement.

There will be further announcements coming each day. Government is recommending everyone to limit movement and social distance themselves.

Q: What ports of entry are affected?

A: 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 there is no commercial activity or health facilities.
  • Botswana has 17 ports of entry with South Africa. Five will remain operational
  • Zimbabwe has one port of entry with South Africa which will remain open
  • Mozambique has four ports of entry with South, of which only one will remain open.
  • Lesotho has 14 ports of entry with South Africa, with only five remaining open
  • eSwatini has 11 ports of entry with South Africa, with only five remaining open.
  • Namibia has 6 points of entry with South Africa, of which only two will remain open.
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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