South Africa’s travel ban commences

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula has said that travellers arriving from countries classified by the World Health Organisation as high risk will be banned from entering South Africa from today (Wednesday March 18), as the travel restriction commences. 

On Monday, the minister said a 24-hour system was in place to check passengers’ itineraries to determine if any of them had transited through high-risk countries. If they had done so, then those passengers would be required to go back. 

Mbalula provided more details about this system and other steps that the transport department is taking in terms of the travel ban at a media briefing on Tuesday night. 

The ban was instituted by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday as a means to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. South Africa has imposed travel bans on people from countries that have been heavily impacted by Covid-19, including China, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Citizens of most of these countries used to be able to visit South Africa without obtaining a visa in advance. This has now changed. All visas granted to people from Iran and China since the beginning of this year have now been revoked (except for people already in South Africa).

Extra screening measures will be conducted on travellers arriving from Hong Kong, Portugal and Singapore, with those countries viewed as medium risk in terms of  spreading Covid-19.

Mbalula said the travel restriction will provide the aviation entities with powers to decline authorisations for aircraft to land.

The minister said the regulations will be gazetted today and a ministerial order will be effected to officiate them.

In cases in which passengers from high-risk countries arrive in South Africa while transiting to neighbouring countries, a robust assessment will be conducted and quarantine measures might be taken, depending on each individual’s case. 

“It’s important to note that quarantine will be based on travel history and not nationality,” said Mbalula.

He added that chartered flights would be treated in the same manner, particularly if they arrive from high-risk countries.

Mbalula also mentioned that official communication will be made, in line with the relevant protocols, to all affected countries and foreign nationals.

The minister added that the aviation industry is one of the high-risk subsectors of transport because it enables high levels of mobility and, by extension, the rapid spread of the coronavirus. 

Therefore, the transport sector is constantly taking measures to limit the risk  of exposure by intensifying screening and distributing masks.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said foreign nationals from high-risk countries who are already in South Africa may remain here as long as their visas have not expired. “If you are on a long-term visa, you are just like us,” he said.

Motsoaledi also said that his department will issue visa extensions to foreign nationals who are already in the country until July, as long as each person provides good reasons for renewal. 

South African citizens who wish to return home will still be allowed to do so, in terms of the Constitution and the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations. According to the justice minister’s spokesperson, Christian Phiri: “They must then comply with whatever measures are put in place to protect their fellow citizens from the Covid-19 virus.”

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.
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