The tourism industry plans to celebrate the end of all Covid-19 restrictions with a series of events, starting with the Hollywoodbets Durban July horse racing and fashion show event in Durban next weekend, after a long two years and three months of limitations on large gatherings.
This comes as Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla yesterday officially announced that all Covid-19 regulations on mask-wearing, limits on gatherings and Covid tests for incoming travellers crossing the South African borders have been repealed.
Phaahla said restrictions had been lifted because of the decline in the positivity rate of the virus, with the peak infection experienced during a dissipating limited 5th wave driven by subvariants and not a new variant of concern.
“Covid-19 virus is not yet gone, it is still in our midst, we are just stronger than before, especially with vaccination,” he said.
“The vaccination programme will remain and is now being integrated into normal health services.”
This news has been welcomed in the hospitality and travel industry, which has been hard-hit by the government-imposed restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 since March 2020.
The Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) chairperson, Rosemary Anderson, says they are absolutely thrilled that the government has lifted the restriction of 50 percent-only capacity at events.
“This will really help our industry get back on its feet because we now have clarity and certainties,” Andersons said.
“We can actually plan in advance, which is exactly what our industry needs.”
Tourism is one of the largest contributors to job creation and gross domestic product in South Africa, and the restrictions on gatherings and international travel choked economic activity.
Flight Centre Travel Group managing director Euan McNeil says lifting last few Covid requirements will undoubtedly boost traveller confidence, and they expect a considerable uptick in travel bookings.
“The Covid entry requirements imposed by our government during Covid made sense at the height of the pandemic,” McNeil said.
“Lately, however, these restrictions have been causing some confusion for travellers, who are unsure how to present their proof of vaccination. For those who aren’t vaccinated, the cost of PCR tests has also been a major deterrent.”
Otto de Vries, the chief executive of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata), shares the sentiment, saying that lifting restrictions will ensure some level of normality and confidence in the market that travel is open and easy.
“It will also certainly help to support the recovery of the sector,” De Vries said.
“We are also delighted on the part of our members who are involved in events as the restrictions severely impacted on their ability to recover in a meaningful manner. All in all: good news.”
However, not everyone was happy with the lifting of restrictions.
Abigail Moyo, spokesperson of the trade union Uasa, said Phaahla’s repeal of Covid-19 prevention measures seemed hasty and premature.
“Uasa is concerned about the possible consequences. Phaahla’s call seems hasty and drastic and may take us right back to where it all started – a surge in infections and deaths,” Moyo said.
“Those who see the need can continue to observe health regulations to stay safe and remain Covid-19 free.”
As of yesterday, more than 36 million vaccine doses had been administered to more than 20 million adults and 1.9m children between 12 and 17 years-old, giving a total average of 50.48 percent with at least one dose.
Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi also has warned that the lifting of the remaining Covid-19 protocols did not mean employers must “adopt a cavalier attitude towards health and safety in their workplaces”.
“The health and safety of workers remain a priority for our labour market,” Nzesi said.
“The Code of Practice on the Management of Exposure to Sars-Cov-2 in the Workplace remains the guiding principle on matters of health and safety in the workplace and is still the responsibility of all leaders to design an inclusive environment that promotes safety and makes workers comfortable in the workplace.”