Both Germany and the US have eased some travel restrictions on South Africa, as global concerns around the Omicron variant continue to subside.
In a proclamation issued at the end of December, US president Joe Biden said that health officials had made substantial progress in assessing the Omicron variant since it was first discovered at the end of November.
He added that there is clear evidence that people who have been vaccinated will have significantly more protection against hospitalisation, and death.
In explaining his decision to ease restrictions, Biden said that the variant has now spread to more than 100 countries – making travel restrictions less viable – and that the US has introduced new testing rules for travellers to help make travelling safer.
In a separate notice, Germany said it would ease restrictions on South African travellers from Tuesday (4 January) as it no longer considers it as a variant area of concern.
This implies that most major travel restrictions have been lifted, it said. However, it noted that South Africa is still considered high-risk for travellers and that some entry restrictions will remain in place.
Despite these eased restrictions and a decline in local Omicron cases, South Africa still faces various travel bans at the start of 2022.
A mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 4 January, South Africa has 92 ‘major restrictions’ in place from other countries. This is up from around 60 significant restrictions in mid-2021. These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.
Skyscanner data shows there are currently 24 moderate restrictions for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet specific entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests and quarantining.
Some of the key areas to be aware of include:
Australia – Australia lifted part of its travel ban on South Africa in mid-December as part of the general reopening of borders for the first time since the pandemic started. However, this primarily applies to Australian citizens, and significant restrictions remain in place, including a block on international travellers, as well as mandatory quarantining and testing.
New Zealand – As with Australia, international travel to New Zealand is permitted for ‘essential reasons’ only. This does not apply to nationals and residents. Travellers are also required to present a valid international certificate for full vaccination against Covid-19, with the use of an approved vaccine. The final dose must have been administered at least 14 days before travel. Vaccine requirements do not apply to New Zealand citizens.
The UK – The UK was the first country to reinstate a travel ban on South Africa after the discovery of the Omicron variant but subsequently eased restrictions in mid-December as the variant spread rapidly across the world. Some quarantine and testing requirements remain in place.
The European Union – While the news that Germany has eased restrictions will be welcomed, large parts of the EU continue to have travel bans on South Africa. France for example has placed South Africa on its Scarlet list, and almost every country in the union requires some form of testing and quarantine for entry.
The US – The Biden administration eased restrictions on travellers at the end of December, but some entry requirements remain in place. International air travellers to the United States from all countries, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, must take a Covid-19 test within one day of departure and show a negative test result before they board a flight to the country. Non-citizens travelling to the US must be fully vaccinated, subject to limited exceptions.
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