Several countries have imposed travel bans on South Africa after a new, more infectious SARS-CoV-2 mutation was confirmed in mid-December.
The 501.v2 variant was initially identified in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and along the Garden Route. It has since spread to other parts of the country and the world and may have properties that allow it to spread faster than other variants of the coronavirus.
A new, and also possibly more virulent variant has, similarly, been confirmed in the UK by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who announced tougher lockdown measures for London on Saturday 19 December. Following a surge in infections, the UK implemented tighter lockdown restrictions to start the new year.
Following the variant’s initial discovery, dozens of countries have banned flights from the UK.
These countries have already closed their borders to South African travellers in response to the new variant.
Dubai (and UAE flight cancellations)
Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) announced that anybody who has travelled from or through South Africa in the past ten days would be denied entry. These updated travel restrictions, announced on 20 January 2021, only allow for valid Dubai residence visa holders to return. Returning residents will, however, need to apply for travel permission with the GDFRA.
Additionally, Dubai’s flag carrier, Emirates Airlines, has suspended all flights between the UAE and South Africa until 28 January. Etihad Airways, too, has cancelled flights until the end of March 2021.
On 5 January, Vietnam’s health and transport ministries announced an immediate suspension of flights from both South African and the UK.
“The risk for the disease to penetrate and spread in Vietnam is very high, especially from people entering from infected countries,” the health ministry said in a statement.
On 5 January 2021, Denmark’s justice ministry announced that “foreigners residing in South Africa will be refused entry” as part of a travel ban expected to last until at least 17 January. Exceptions include travel for child care purposes and family visits for people who are sick or dying. Access under these circumstances will still be subject to a negative Covid-19 PCR test.
United Kingdom (extended until 15 February 2021)
The UK has extended its South African travel ban. The ban, first implemented on 24 December, will now last until at least 15 February 2021. As a result, British Airways has cancelled all additional flights from Johannesburg to Heathrow. The suspension of British Airways’ flight bookings from Cape Town has been extended to 1 March.
The Netherlands (updated Thursday 21 January 2021)
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines suspended flights from South Africa, following a set of stringent new travel restrictions introduced by the Dutch Foreign Ministry, which come into effect on 23 January 2021.
While the Netherlands’ borders have not been entirely shut to all countries, visitors will need present two negative Covid-19 test results – a PCR certificate obtained within 72 hours and a rapid antigen result obtained within four hours – before being allowed to board. Travellers will also need to enter quarantine for at least five days, even with both negative test results.
On Sunday 20 December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that all commercial flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa had been suspended. Any travellers returning to Israel, who had spent any period of time in either Britain, Denmark or South Africa in the past 30-days, will be subject to a mandatory quarantine period.
Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced a temporary ban on all flights from Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, and South Africa, citing dangers of the new Covid-19 variant. “It has been reported that the rate of transmission has increased with the mutation of the coronavirus,” said Koca.
Germany’s Federal Minister for Health Jens Spahn confirmed that flights from the UK and South Africa would be suspended from Monday 21 December. “Because of the reported coronavirus mutation, the federal government intends to restrict travel options between Germany and Great Britain and South Africa,” added government spokeswoman Martina Fietz. The temporary suspension will be reviewed on 31 December 2020.
Lufthansa confirmed that only flights from Frankfurt and Munich to South Africa will continue to operate. Flights from South Africa to Germany will reopen between 1 January and 6 January 2021 but will only be offered to passengers with German citizenship or proof of permanent residence.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has confirmed the suspension of all international flights. Passengers in transit on Monday 21 December will, however, be allowed to complete their travel plans. The suspension will last until the end of 2020 and may be extended if cases continue to rise in high-risk countries.
Switzerland (revised 24 December)
Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation “suspended all air traffic connections” with South Africa and the UK on Sunday 20 December 2020. “Switzerland is reacting to the appearance of a new variant of the coronavirus, which, according to initial findings, is significantly more contagious than the known form,” the authority said in a statement.
This decision was revised, allowing for limited flight operations from Thursday 24 December to “allow persons resident in the UK and South Africa to return home for Christmas”. The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health confirmed that departures would be closely monitored and that persons leaving Switzerland will be kept separate from others using the airport.
Additionally, return flights into Switzerland, from the UK and South Africa, will only be offered to Swiss citizens or holders of a Swiss residence permit or type D visa from Switzerland. These flights will need to be preapproved by the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation and citizens looking to return home have been urged to contact their preferred airline directly.
On Monday afternoon, Mauritius confirmed that any person who had resided or travelled through the UK or South Africa in the last 15 days would be banned from entering the island nation.
The Central American nation announced that travellers from the UK and South Africa would be barred entry, effective from 23:59 on Monday 21 December.
These countries have banned travel from the UK, which makes bans on SA likely to follow
The UK has been hit with a swell of flight suspensions across the European Union and the world. Bans impacting South Africa, as a result of the 501.v2 variant’s presence, are likely to follow.
- Ireland (travel ban ends on Saturday 9 January 2021)
- Hong Kong
- El Salvador
- Chile (effective Tuesday)
(Compiled by Luke Daniel)