The Ministers tasked with immigration, tourism, health, transport and international relations and cooperation have confirmed that three airports will be opened and operational for international air travel – OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka international airports.
This while 18 borders will be opened to allow for ease of travel with other African countries.
Thirty-five border posts will continue to offer restricted services, owing to insufficient capacity for screening, testing and quarantine. Travellers coming to these borders will be directed to operational border posts for processing.
The Ministers issued a statement with clarifications on the reopening of South Africa’s borders effective October 1, explaining that a cautious approach will be taken guided by epidemiological and transmission rates both in South Africa and the travellers’ country of origin.
This followed after President Cyril Rampahosa declared the move to Alert Level 1 of lockdown. Inbound and outbound international travel, except for the repatriation of people, had been restricted from March 26.
South Africa has developed a risk categorisation model for different international travellers, classifying them according to a scale of high, medium and low risk.
Not permitted will be leisure travellers from high-risk countries, which are countries with a higher Covid-19 infection rate and death toll than South Africa.
For example, the South African authorities have, for the time being, limited leisure travel from France to South Africa.
However, business travellers with scarce and critical skills, including diplomats, repatriated persons, investors and people participating in professional sport will undergo health protocol screenings and be allowed to enter the country.
If the passport of the traveller from a high-risk country indicates that he/she has spent ten days or more in a low-risk country before departure, he/she will be considered to be arriving from a low-risk country.
Travellers from medium- and low-risk countries will only be allowed into the country subject to the prevailing visa requirements.
Airlines from high-risk countries are not necessarily banned, but their crew will be required to isolate in facilities at designated accommodation at the cost of their employer.
Long-term visa holders who visit the country for business purposes will be allowed to travel to South Africa. These travellers will also be subject to health screenings for Covid-19 symptoms at the port of entry.
Travellers are required to wear masks at all times, practice physical distancing in public spaces, regularly wash hands and sanitise, as well as present a negative polymerase chain reaction Covid-19 test result not older than 72 hours from their time of departure.
International travellers must have travel insurance to cover the Covid-19 test and quarantine costs.
Additionally, travellers will be screened for symptoms and will need to provide proof of accommodation should they need to self-quarantine at the time of arrival in the country.
Should a traveller display any Covid-19-related symptoms or have been in contact with an infected person, they will be expected to take a mandatory Covid-19 test at their own cost – or their insurers.
If the traveller tests positive for the virus, they will be subjected to a ten-day quarantine at the designated site at their own cost.
The risk categorisation model for international travellers regards high-risk travellers as those from countries with higher numbers of Covid-19 infections and reported deaths compared with South Africa.
Medium risk travellers are from countries with relatively equal numbers for infections and deaths to South Africa, while low risk travellers originate from countries with a lesser number of infections than South Africa.
Meanwhile, to facilitate ease of transportation of goods and medicines to and from the country, ships will be allowed to dock, load and off-load cargo.
Crew members from the cargo ships will be allowed to change crews. These crew members will also be medically screened for Covid-19 symptoms.
Passenger liners for luxury travel are, however, still not allowed to dock and offload passengers.
Government has affirmed that it would constantly monitor the transmission rates both in the country and countries of origin and respond accordingly.
The statement also assured that the country has conducted more than four-million Covid-19 tests to date and that the recovery rate stands at 90%.
The Ministers stated that the country had sufficient hospital capacity, including beds, intensive care unit space and ventilators, enabling the country to further manage the number of infections and provide adequate care and treatment for those who present with Covid-19 symptoms.
South Africa has put measures in place to mitigate the risk of resurgence or a second wave of the virus through improved contact tracing and isolation measures, including the Covid Alert App, which government has urged travellers to download and use.
The Flight Centre Travel Group says travel is set to become much more complex in the months to come.
MD Andrew Stark explains that the ever-changing travel regulations and requirements from the different destinations across the world make for a travel landscape that will be difficult to navigate.
Stark cautions that while the reopening of the borders is a vital, positive step in the right direction and will allow South Africans to reconnect with their loved ones, the return to travel is not going to be immediate, neither should holidaymakers throw all caution to the wind.
The Flight Centre Travel Group expects South Africans will start travelling for leisure to regional favourites such as the Southern African Development Community countries and popular Indian Ocean islands such as Zanzibar and Mauritius, first.
Customer experience director Kim Taylor stresses that the list of identified high risk countries is fluid, as data will be checked and adjustments made fortnightly, while there still remains a grey area surrounding outbound travel for South Africans to high risk countries that would permit them entry.
Stark recommends that South Africans only book their non-essential leisure travel for next year and for now stick to regional travel on the African continent and the Indian Ocean islands.
He adds that reputable travel companies for holiday bookings or professional travel management can help with travel advice amid these changing times.
Meanwhile, Cape Town International Airport GM Deon Cloete says in a statement that the airport has been preparing for resumed travel for a few months and has collaborated with airport partners to redesign its end-to-end processes, plan and introduce new technologies such as Covid-19 monitors, and trained all staff across the value chain on new processes and protocols.
City of Cape Town MMC Alderman James Vos says the visitor economy is everyone's business as it brings in much needed revenue to the city of Cape Town and supports thousands of jobs. He points out that his team is hard at work with implementing Cape Town's tourism bounce back strategy to ensure that the sector and its related industires become stronger and more sustainable than before.
"We have processed close to 20 000 passengers on repatriation flights to date but welcoming back our scheduled commercial airlines is a moment we have been waiting for. We are eager to safely facilitate passengers through our airports and are keen to welcome back the international airlines and the visitors they bring," Cloete states.
Currently, the airport has about 52 arriving and departing flights a day, which should pick up during October.