SOUTH Africa’s tourism and hospitality industry has called for the removal of the stringent PCR test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers in a bid to boost the sector on the back of declining Covid-19 cases.
Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla on Friday said the department was formulating new regulations to replace the National State of Disaster which lapses on March 15 and whose Act permitted the lockdown restrictions for two years.
Phaahla said they were now ready to present their proposals to the Cabinet and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) within the next two weeks.
He also said a team of senior government officials had been leading consultations on the issue of mandatory vaccinations and will hand over recommendations to the NCCC.
“We hope the reviewed health regulations and other regulations from other departments will assist in guiding a reopening, especially in the leisure and tourism industries,” he said.
“The proposal will include amendments to travel requirements which could make it easier and cheaper to travel into and out of South Africa.”
South Africa has recorded a 20 percent reduction in new Covid-19 cases over the past week, and fully vaccinated individuals currently stand at about 17 million, or 43 percent.
On Friday, the Federated Hospitality Association of SA (Fedhasa) welcomed Phaahla’s announcement for amendments to travel requirements.
The severity of the lockdown restrictions has cost the tourism industry billions of rands and left more than 300 000 workers jobless.
Fedhasa chairperson Rosemary Anderson said the removal of the PCR test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers was imperative if businesses were to rebuild the sector.
“Many destinations have already removed the requirement for vaccinated travellers to furnish negative PCR tests, most recently South Africa’s neighbour, Botswana,” she said.
“Ease of accessibility plays a major role in travellers’ decision-making when selecting a destination and the PCR test has always been a major stumbling block hampering inbound travellers, who do not always have easy and affordable access to PCR testing in their own country.”
In December, pricing for a Covid19 PCR test was reduced from R850 to R500 with immediate effect following a groundbreaking agreement between the
Competition Commissioner and private laboratories. Anderson said the cost and inconvenience of mandatory PCR tests was exacerbated if travellers were visiting multiple destinations in Southern Africa over the general two-week or 10-day holiday period.
She said this had also been particularly damaging for the cruise line industry as the impossible logistics of organising PCR tests and processing them above cruise liners had reduced South Africa’s attractiveness as an itinerary stop.
She said the approval of these proposals would be a welcome relief for hospitality businesses which are fighting to rebuild, preserve jobs and contribute to the economy.
“Mass unemployment is one of the biggest problems facing South Africa and our sector holds the key to economic growth and job creation,” Anderson said.
“For us to realise our potential and be the catalyst our economy needs, decisive decisions based on science and global best practice are required sooner, rather than later.”
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