During a time when popular destinations are ramping up to receive an influx of visitors, travel bans against several African countries will mean these nations will miss out on much-needed tourism spend.

Following the detection and reporting of the new Omicron variant by South Africa’s team of experts, numerous countries have implemented travel bans against the African nation as well as several others from the Southern African region. This, however, is being heavily criticised by many as a knee-jerk reaction that has resulted in the unnecessary singling out and side-lining of African countries from the global agenda.

“The latest travel bans on South Africa are extremely disappointing and premature considering the limited information we have about this new variant… Further restrictions will exacerbate an already devastated and ailing tourism industry and will negatively affect various other industries in South Africa,” commented Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of TBCSA.

Clear evidence

In an article dated 03 December 2021, The Lancet noted that once community transmission of an airborne virus takes place, travel restrictions make very little difference.

“Before travel bans can be imposed a variant identified in country A has most likely already spread to country B and, thereafter, globally. 2 days after South Africa’s announcement, omicron was sequenced from an unvaccinated traveller returning to Belgium from Egypt via Turkey who became symptomatic 11 days later. She had no ties with or exposure to anyone from southern Africa,” the medical researcher explains.

Despite this information being publicly and widely available, South Africa and other African nations will not be able to welcome the many international travellers that were expected over the upcoming holiday season. South Africa reportedly lost R1 billion in cancelled bookings following the country’s detection of the Omicron variant.

“In less than 48 hours, our outbound and indoor industry was destroyed for the next three months… The knee-jerk reaction from countries around the world has been nothing short of a disaster for the local travel industry,” says Otto de Vries, CEO of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents.

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“The trend towards destinations taking evidence-based approaches to restrictions reflects the evolving nature of the pandemic will also help restore confidence in travel while helping keep both tourists and tourism workers safe.”

 – UNWTO

No tit for tat

“It’s deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalised by others for doing the right thing. We call on all countries to take rational, proportional risk reduction measures in keeping with international health regulations,” WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was reported as saying at a WHO briefing held this past Wednesday.

As of 04 December 2021, Skyscanner noted that South Africa had low restrictions from 41 countries, moderate restrictions from 21 countries and major restrictions from 94 countries.

“We are all concerned about the new Covid variant and owe South Africa’s scientists our thanks for identifying it before anyone else did. But the unilateral travel bans now imposed on SADC countries by the UK, EU, US, Australia, and others are uncalled for. Covid measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia,” Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera said in a Facebook post on 28 November 2021.

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