The Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) urged the UK government to rescind its decision to place Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and eSwatini back onto its ‘Red List’ of countries to which it imposes severe travel restrictions and quarantines.
AASA CEO, Aaron Munetsi in a statement on Friday said the UK should reconsider what appears to have been a hasty decision, given the paucity of detailed knowledge and information on the newly identified variant, its presence and the efficacy of vaccines in limiting its potential to cause serious illness.
This comes after the UK government halted all direct commercial and private flights from these countries from Friday 26 November to Sunday 28 November after the B.1.1.529 variant was detected in South Africa and Botswana.
“With its announcement, the UK is delivering a body-blow to our region’s travel and tourism sector. It puts businesses as well as tens of thousands of jobs and many more livelihoods at risk,” Munetsi said.
He added the business and leisure air travel industry in Southern Africa has only just begun to see green shoots emerge as governments have increasingly begun to relax and look to align and simplify their travel requirements and procedures. He noted, however, the UK’s unilateral step is a major setback that sets a worrying precedent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disarray to air travel and tourism worldwide. Southern Africa’s connectivity with the rest of the world fell by 80% as a result of travel restrictions.
Total regional and inter-continental demand has recovered to about 40% of pre-COVID traffic levels by the start of November 2021 with domestic and regional traffic leading the comeback. Prior to the UK’s ‘Red List’ announcement today, long-haul traffic to and from Southern Africa was forecast to return to 2019 levels by 2025.