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Level 1: When will South Africa reopen its international borders?

It’s a question many of us have been asking for the best part of six months. However, Cyril Ramaphosa may finally put this issue to bed. Locals and foreign tourists alike want to know when South Africa will reopen its international borders, as a shift to Level 1 lockdown restrictions inches closer.

We are heading for the most mild form of lockdown, and with the peak tourism season just around the corner, the pressure to welcome back visitors from overseas is growing. But when can we expect developments? Here’s what you need to know…

Will South Africa reopen its international borders at Level 1?

When Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation on Level 1…

Although we haven’t had any official confirmation that this will be the case, we fully expect President Ramaphosa to relax the rules on international travel during his next address to the nation. This speech is likely to take place within the next few days, after Cyril engaged in a series of crunch talks throughout Tuesday.

The noises from within Cabinet suggest that South Africans will indeed be allowed to leave the country for the first time in six months. However, those with itchy feet won’t be able to jet-off as soon as Ramaphosa finishes his speech…

What happens once the president has made the declaration?

Once Ramaphosa confirms that the borders can be reopened, the guidelines have to be published in the Government Gazette before they become law. The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) is responsible for establishing the ‘small print’ of the regulations, setting out the rules for ‘who can travel where’ in due course.

It can take days – or even between one-to-two weeks – for a change in lockdown laws to become legally binding.

Tentative dates in mind

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde is pushing for a very quick turnaround, and wants international travel to return ‘by next month’. As we’ve seen during previous lockdown transitions, the new levels and their updated rules sometimes come into effect from the start of a month, and Winde will be pushing for a 1 October launch date.

The ball, for now, remains in Ramaphosa’s court. But an announcement on international travel would be in line with a number of other African countries, who have published their own reopening dates this month:

  • Nigeria – 5 September
  • Namibia – 18 September
  • Angola – 21 September
  • Uganda – 1 October
  • Mauritius – 1 October

However, more conservative estimates suggest that international travel to and from South Africa won’t be fully operational until the end of 2020, or the beginning of 2021. Any recovery plans are likely to be introduced in ‘stages’, though.

Motivating factors

With cases of COVID-19 declining in South Africa, Cabinet can start thinking with their business brains. We are heading into the peak of the tourist season from October onwards. It can be argued that no other industry has taken the battering tourism has, after suffering a complete shutdown for the best part of five months.

The sooner that international operations can resume, the better. It’s likely that the government would want to have its rules for reopening the borders drafted and published before 15 October – when the State of Disaster legislation expires.

Any mitigating circumstances or exceptions?

Reopening the borders doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. It’ll be accompanied by the imposition of travel restrictions to countries still harshly impacted by COVID-19, and quarantine requirements for visitors from certain locations are likely to be enforced.

Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said last week that South Africa would enforce a regional travel bubble before reopening international borders – allowing South Africans to travel across sub-Saharan countries only.

Ramaphosa’s address on Level 1, whenever it may be, is likely to ‘clear the air’ in more ways than one…

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