South Africa has been slapped with numerous travel bans since COVID hit, particularly since December 2020 when a new COVID strain was first detected in the country.
But things are looking up. The news that the 35- to 49-year-old age group can register for their vaccinations came even earlier than expected. Last weekend, over one million people registered on the government’s Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) portal in just 24 hours.
But the real cherry on the top this week was the news that more and more European countries are lifting restrictions for South Africans, especially for those who’ve had their jabs. Finally, dreams of picnicking under the Eiffel Tower or feasting on oodles of Swiss chocolate in Switzerland, are cautiously, closer than ever.
Here’s everything you need to know:
Where can I travel if I’m vaccinated?
Most recently, Switzerland was the first to make an announcement that vaccinated South Africans are welcome to visit, followed by France and Canada. All vaccinated South Africans are welcome to enter France with Canada opening its borders on 9 September 2021.
Many South Africans are also eagerly waiting to jet off to paradise when Mauritius fully opens for vaccinated South Africans from 1 October 2021, just in time for the popular December holiday season.
Travel and business leaders have welcomed the speeding up of South Africa’s vaccination process, despite its slow start, with open arms.
“We’re incredibly excited by the ramping up of the vaccination process with the over 35s flooding in to get their jabs,” says Andrew Stark, MD Flight Centre Travel Group. “In the case of the tourism, travel and hospitality industry, in particular, and its far-reaching supply chain, we are deeply reliant on the widespread vaccination of South Africans to protect against the devastating loss of life and livelihoods.
“The only way to give our international source markets – travellers and airlines – confidence in reopening the door to South Africa is for us to reach the herd immunity threshold of vaccinating approximately 67% of our adult population as quickly as possible.”
It’s not only destinations that are beginning to open their borders to vaccinated South Africans. Many popular cruise lines, such as Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) are welcoming vaccinated passengers onboard.
“As cruising resumes, all guests and crew must be fully vaccinated at least 2 weeks prior to departure. Guest vaccination requirements are currently for all sailings embarking through October 31, 2021,” says Nick Wilkinson, Regional Vice President Business Development Middle East & Africa for Norwegian Cruise Line.
“Along with proof of vaccination, all guests will be required to take a COVID-19 antigen test, administered and paid for by the cruise line, and receive a negative result prior to boarding. Our guests’ safety is our number one priority,” he adds.
Struggling to find reliable information on where you can go?
The Flight Centre Travel Group reports that the most enquiries they are dealing with in recent months are still for international travel. Commonly asked questions are around a destination’s entry and quarantine regulations as well as required travel documents.
“Travellers can get the latest COVID travel restrictions worldwide inreal-time by searching the newly revamped FCTG Travel News website,” says Andrew Stark, MD Flight Centre Travel Group Middle East and Africa. “Our interactive COVID-19 Travel Map allows you to easily search destinations that are open for travel, identify travel restrictions and quarantine rules. The site is powered by Sherpa providing real-time information, although we would also advise to check the information with your Flight Centre Travel Expert as the information changes day to day, and sometimes even hour to hour.”
What you need to know:
The situation is fluid and changing incredibly rapidly. Entry regulations and required documents differ from country to country and airline to airline.
Vaccines that are accepted for entry also vary, as do the required documentation proving one’s vaccination status. If you’re travelling to Europe, both the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved by the EMA – the vaccines currently distributed in South Africa.
“As yet, there is no industry or Government standard in place when it comes to an approved vaccination document required for international travel,” says Kim Taylor, Customer Experience Director at the Flight Centre Travel Group. “For now, Flight Centre’s recommendation is that a passenger reviews the specific entry requirements of the country they are visiting to determine how their proof of vaccination should be presented or captured prior to travel. Flight Centre Travel Experts are positioned to assist in interpreting this information.”
Countries that are allowing entry to non-vaccinated South Africans:
If you have yet to be granted the opportunity to get vaccinated, it does not mean that international travel is completely off the cards. In many countries, entry is open, and quarantine is not required as long as South Africans get a RT-PCR COVID test done before arriving. These countries include:
- Albania and North Macedonia: Open to travellers regardless of their vaccination status.
- The Maldives
- SADC countries, such as Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe
Despite recent hopes around travel to the Seychelles, the ministry made an abrupt U-turn on a decision around travellers from South Africa. As it stands currently, the Seychelles welcomes travellers (vaccinated and non-vaccinated) with the exception of those who have travelled to or those who reside in South Africa, up to two weeks before their arrival.
Precautions for safe travel – locally and abroad
Yes, you still need to take strict precautions even if you are vaccinated. Here are some guidelines for safe international travel and doing your part to help prevent the spread of the virus:
- Wear a mask.
- Carry hand sanitiser.
- Practice strict social distancing wherever you are.
- Self-isolate for 10 days and monitor for COVID systems after arriving back at home following your trip. It is also wise to get another COVID test 3 – 5 days after returning home.