South Africa Tourism Industry Calls on U.K. to Lift Travel Restrictions

The South African tourism industry is calling on the United Kingdom to lift travel restrictions following new scientific research as it pertains to the Omicron COVID-19 variant, first detected in late November. Following the detection, the U.K. and other countries enacted a travel ban for individuals who had been in South Africa and other nearby countries.

Now, South Africa’s largest private health insurer, Discovery Health, in conjunction with the South Africa Medical Research Council led by professor Glenda Gray, has announced the largest real-world assessment of the Omicron variant to date. Research across 78,000 Omicron positive COVID-19 test results in South Africa between November 15 and December 7 considered the severity of illness relative to ancestral COVID and the protection afforded by vaccines against hospitalization and severe disease and death.

Here’s what they found:

The research revealed that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine continue to confer a 70 percent protection against severe complications from Omicron. Additionally, the risk of hospitalization among all adults diagnosed with COVID-19 is 29 percent lower for those with the Omicron variant compared to the original ancestral variant that originated in China. The research also found that the number of patients requiring oxygen and ventilation in hospital remains low compared to previous waves.

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of Tourism Business Council South Africa (TBCSA), South Africa’s umbrella travel and tourism association, said in a press statement, “You are now as likely to catch Omicron in Coventry (England) as you are in Cape Town (South Africa), and the scientific evidence is clear, that for most people this variant results in a mild disease which poses a low risk to public health.

“Millions of people across Southern Africa are dependent on tourism for an income, and thousands more families are waiting anxiously to know if their loved ones will be home for the holidays. The U.K. needs to act immediately to remove its discriminatory red list and begin rebuilding trust with the Global South where its travel policy is causing anger and resentment.”

Economic Impact of Tourism in Southern Africa

The U.K. is the largest overseas market for tourism into South Africa. In a typical year approximately 450,000 British passport holders travel into South Africa, contributing to national income from tourism of R265 billion ($18 billion). Tourism provides 726 000 direct jobs and in total 1.5 million jobs directly and indirectly. One job in tourism can support an additional 10 people in some rural areas. This disproportionately benefits the life chances of young women given that approximately 70 percent of tourism workers are themselves women.

According to the TBCSA, the umbrella organization representing the unified voice of business in the travel and tourism sector: “Travel and tourism are also critical to the funding of conservation in Africa. Over the past 30 years, government financing for parks and biodiversity protection has declined in favor of a model sustained by eco-tourism. Without this income, rural communities are hit hard. Wildlife is looked at as food rather than an asset to be protected. Tourism infrastructure is destroyed, fences come down and the knowledge and skills in the sector move abroad or into different industries. This negative cycle threatens not only habitats but the planet. Africa’s grasslands and rainforests are only now being appreciated for their role in carbon capture, something that is put at risk if landowners are forced to monetize them through more extractive industries like mining, logging or large-scale agriculture.”

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