UK red list South Africa

Photo: Unsplash

Opinion: Why the UK must REMOVE South Africa from its travel ‘red list’

South Africa is still subject to the UK’s harshest possible travel restrictions – but the decision to keep Mzansi on its red list makes no sense whatsoever.

UK red list South Africa

Photo: Unsplash

We know Boris Johnson has been a busy bee this week. Hell, when you’re implementing tax hikes on the British public, it’s fair to assume his schedule is a hectic one. However, both he and the UK government need to start showing some urgency on a matter that concerns a large amount of South Africans. Yes, this is about the travel ‘red list’.

What is the travel red list?

The travel guidance in Blighty is split into three tiers; green, amber, and red. Countries on the green and amber lists generally enjoy easier restrictions on travel, providing that correct testing procedures are followed. It’s even less stressful to visit many of these places if you’re vaccinated, too. However, the red list comes with a set of severe deterrents.

Travellers from South Africa entering the UK must quarantine for an extended period of time, in government-run hotels. The stays are grim, the isolation is brutal, and there is no room for negotiation.

Anyone who needs to make a journey from Mzansi to the British Isles out of necessity will still have to go through this ordeal – costing them thousands in the process. For an overwhelming majority, it’s an impossible ask.

How did South Africa end up on the UK red list?

At the end of last year, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock managed to briefly put his scandalous affair to one side, so he could deal with a significant issue arising from Mzansi. As a COVID-19 resurgence hit both the UK and South Africa, new variants were found in the two countries. Inevitably, a mutual set of travel restrictions were drafted.

The Alpha and Beta variants drove second waves, but by March, both had fizzled out as harsher lockdowns brought the virus under control again. Just when things looked promising, our respective nations were Delta blow…

This time, the Brits were able to ride out another wave, thanks to their swift vaccination programme. South Africa lagged behind, and sure enough, another tough lockdown was needed to bring soaring infections rates down. But with 25% of the population now fully immunised on our shores, we’re doing a decent job of playing catch-up.

So, what makes South Africa’s place on the UK’s red list so silly? Eish, where to start…

Why keeping South Africa on the red list makes no sense

Today, SA recorded a total of 5 372 new COVID-19 cases. By comparison, The UK recorded 37 489 new cases. That alone should highlight the sheer lunacy of our stay on the travel red list. But wait, there’s more.

If this whole ‘red-listing’ of South Africa was determined by the presence of ‘different variants’, then that should also be enough to end this whole farce now. Since June, Delta has been the dominant variant of COVID-19 in BOTH countries. Therefore, travellers are highly, highly unlikely to contract a different strain in South Africa.

Some of the concerns raised about variants are just… well, to use a British term… they’re daft. No mutation discovered so far is capable of evading the neutralising qualities of the vaccine. With Delta, efficacy to prevent transmission has waned, but COVID-19 jabs are still outstandingly brilliant at keeping the vaccinated free from severe illness and death.

Even with the C.1.2 variant that was discovered in SA last month… it turns out that little bastard now wasn’t worth the panic sparked by online doom-mongers and select ‘professors’ who prioritise their newly-found relevance over facts.

(If you know, you know…)

The goalposts have changed, but the UK isn’t playing fair

What is more, SA’s vaccination programme is now thriving. Hundreds of thousands of jabs are being administered here every day. We’ve never had it so good, and this data should give a real ‘shot in the arm’ to DIRCO – as Minister Naledi Pandor continues to lobby the UK government to change our status to amber instead.

A quarter of South African adults are fully vaccinated, with the elderly and clinically vulnerable protected. This country is a safer place for travellers than it was just a couple of months ago – and yes, you can factor in case numbers too.

With little over 5 000 a day being reported in Mzansi, that’s lower than several OTHER amber list countries.

Iran, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Russia are some of the standout examples. And what about India? That is still on the amber list, despite recording more new virus cases than the UK itself in the past 24 hours. Meanwhile, little old South Africa can’t get a look-in – and even the Einsteins in the Conservative’s Cabinet should be able to see the problem here.

Thousands of South Africans ‘unable to see family members’

To conclude, perhaps it’s awfully naive to ask Johnson and his cronies to consider a compassionate side of the argument – but it’s worth a try anyway. The UK and South Africa are inextricably linked. Our cultures, our shared values mirror each other. That’s why so many families are split between both nations, despite the 6 000-mile distance.

Not everyone who travels abroad is a holidaymaker. These restrictions are preventing families from uniting at a time where support and reassurance are needed the most. The pandemic has been the cruellest of all dividers, keeping relatives and friends apart – but the UK’s draconian travel rules certainly run it close.

The red list, therefore, is unfit for purpose. There is no need for South Africa to be ostracised. It is time to face facts, cut some slack, and change tact. Failing that, I fear we’re really going to have to get tough with the UK…

Should they fail to comply, SA should simply stop sending its finest wines and cricket players to the grey little island.

That’ll show ’em.