South Africa has finally come off the “Red List” today, allowing normal travel to resume between South Africa and the UK and removing the need for travellers to spend 11 nights in expensive hotel quarantine.

The South African Chamber of Commerce UK welcomes this move unequivocally, especially coming just as the South African tourism season kicks into high gear. Whilst fear of the Beta strain of COVID-19 perhaps justified some early caution on the part of the UK Government, it has been apparent for some time now that the dominant strain in South Africa, as in the UK, has been the Delta variant, but at significantly lower rates than in the UK despite the slower roll-out of the vaccination programme.

According to WHO statistics, South Africa has recorded only 768 new cases in the last 24 hours, compared to 33,049 in the UK. Total cases in South Africa are approaching 3 million, while the UK is approaching 8 million.

This suggests that the general population of the UK is at a much higher risk of infection from each other than from travellers entering the country from South Africa, especially given the almost total relaxation of mandated mask wearing, limitations on social gatherings and social distancing within the UK. In that context, to continue to penalise travellers from South Africa has for some time been scientifically unjustified and manifestly unfair.

The most obvious difference between the two countries is the declining death rate in the UK (represented by the flattening of the lower graph in the top image), which has ceased to mirror the rise and fall in infection rates as it did in earlier outbreaks, presumably as a consequence of vaccinations.

This argues strongly for increased international support for vaccination programmes in the global south to achieve a similar lowering of mortality rates. This call was made by Lord Paul Boateng, former British High Commissioner to South Africa in last week’s SACC Innovation and Resilience Awards, where he argued that, “As we tackle the issue of vaccine inequality and access, we also have to bear in mind how important it is to address this issue, because without it we are not going to defeat the pandemic… None of us will be safe until everyone is safe.”

In an interview yesterday on SABC News, Chamber Chairman Sharon Constançon listed some of the ways that the Chamber of Commerce, its members and supporters have helped to lobby the UK Government to bring about this change.

It is preposterous that the UK is now permitting travel to and from countries with much higher infection rates than South Africa’s.

Lord Peter Hain in a recent letter to UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson

In his letter of October 1st, shared with the Chamber, long-time Chamber member and former anti-apartheid activist Lord Peter Hain urged the Prime Minister to “immediately direct officials to remove South Africa from the red list.” He further declared that, “It is preposterous that the UK is now permitting travel to and from countries with much higher infection rates than South Africa’s.”

Read the letter in full here.

Sharon also echoed Lord Hain’s warning to Boris Johnson that continuing to impose unjustified restrictions on travellers from South Africa risked long-term damage to relations between the two countries, which historically have been very close. Not only has the tourism industry been adversely affected, but trade and investment are being hampered by the restrictions at a time when it is more important than ever to encourage and support the recovery of the South African economy – and by extension the people of the country, who, lacking many of the social safety nets enjoyed by citizens of the UK and other developed nations, have endured extreme hardship.

Two petitions calling on the UK Government to remove South Africa from the Red List, featured on the Chamber website since August and September, have garnered more than 80,000 signatures between them.

Marathon Success

On a lighter note, Sharon also mentioned her participation in the London Marathon last weekend, where she and 4 other supporters of the South African Chamber of Commerce UK, spread across 4 continents, wore green in support of South Africa being added to the Green List of countries, at the same time raising money for Breadline Africa to fund the rebuilding of the Izibonele Educare Centre, which was destroyed by a storm last year. Anyone wishing to support this worthy cause can donate here.

Participants in the virtual London Marathon

We had a degree of fitness, but not at the level we needed.

Sharon Constançon

Much of the 26 miles was completed at a more sedate walking pace, as participation in the event was virtual and allowed for runners and walkers to cover the distance anywhere around the world at their own pace. Participants could take part in other cities, or countries, or as in Sharon’s case – the beautiful countryside surrounding her home in Buckinghamshire. She explained the necessity of the more gentle pace, saying that, “COVID has glued us – rather earcuffed us – to our desks via our headsets so none of the team achieved any training. We had a degree of fitness, but not at the level we needed.”

Speaking of the different journeys enjoyed by the Chamber participants, Sharon noted that, “On the route we took in sights of the English, Canadian, South African and Isle of Man scenery, sunrises, rivers and even a shoe tree.”

The tree in question is a particular local landmark and mystery, with researchers having received lottery funding in a failed attempt to uncover the mysterious source and explanation for the old training shoes festooning its boughs. Having passed under it twice in one day, and now much the worse for wear after 26 miles up hill and down dale, Sharon wonders if her own shoes will now find their way to the top branches.

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