The US says ‘do not travel’ to SA (again) – but United Airlines will keep flying to Joburg


(Photo by Marco Bello/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

  • Less than a month after having its alert level lowered, South Africa has returned to the US’ highest travel warning.
  • Alert Level 4 urges US citizens to avoid South Africa due to serious health and safety concerns.
  • The recent update is in response to South Africa’s third wave of Covid-19 infections.
  • But the only airline operating direct flights between the two countries will continue doing so, despite the heightened warning.
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The United States has updated its travel advisory for South Africa, warning its citizens against visiting the country due to the third wave of Covid-19 infections and the associated Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Less than a month after the US revised South Africa’s travel alert to Level 3 – recommending visitors to “reconsider travel” – the bureau of consular affairs, on Tuesday, reimposed a Level 4 warning. This highest alert level, issued as health and safety guidance for US citizens planning to travel abroad, applies to 83 countries.

Malawi, Botswana, and Rwanda are just some of the countries which were also moved to alert level 4 on Friday. The frequency of these updates increased dramatically in April, when the US announced that, in addition to general safety concerns, travel advisories would reflect Covid-19 risk assessments tabled by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Prior to the pandemic, South Africa was placed at alert level 2, which urges US citizens to “exercise increased caution” when travelling in a foreign country. Since then, movement between South Africa and the US has been severely impacted by travel restrictions imposed by the former in response to the Delta variant which was first detected in the Eastern Cape.

The heightened alert level recently reapplied to South Africa is “due to Covid-19 and related restrictions and conditions”. The warning also makes note of “crime and civil unrest” in South Africa. These elements have formed part of the lower-level alerts’ description before the pandemic.

Travel Health Notices (THN) issued by the CDC, which determine the level of advisory imposed by the bureau of consular affairs, rely on new cases detected over the past 28 days per 100,000 population. Level 4 is applied to countries which record more than 500 cases.

“This is a deeply concerning – though sadly unsurprising – decision by the US’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention,” explained Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management, James Vos, in response to the US’ latest travel advisory.

“The US is a key travel and trade market and this advisory reaffirms the urgency with which we need to speed up the vaccine rollout.”

The update comes in reaction to South Africa’s burgeoning Covid-19 caseload, with Gauteng’s infection rate driving the country’s third wave. South Africa has recorded more than 250,000 cases in the last 14 days.

US travel advisories (9 July 2021)

US travel advisories (9 July 2021)

The THN issued by the CDC can also be heightened due to a rapid increase in hospitalisations. Vaccination coverage rates and vaccine performance are also considered when lowering a THN level within the 28-day observation period.

Despite the heightened advisory level having the potential to dissuade US tourists from visiting South Africa, United Airlines, which is the currently the only US carrier operating direct flights to South Africa, says it will continue flying.

“United is compliant with regulations in all of the countries it serves. Our daily nonstop service from Johannesburg to New York/Newark continues to operate,” an airline representative told Business Insider South Africa on Friday.

The airline conducted its inaugural flight from Newark to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport on 4 June, after postponing its return to South Africa for almost ten months due to the pandemic. It’s flights to Cape Town are due to resume in November.

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