Johannesburg - High-risk Covid-19 countries including the UK and the US who previously did not even require a visa to travel to South Africa, will not be allowed to enter South Africa from Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Tuesday during a press conference.
Persons with ordinary passports from China, Italy, Iran, the UK, the US, Germany and Spain would be denied visas.
Typically, only Iran and China would require visas to travel to South Africa. But from Wednesday, countries including the US, UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain will require visas to travel to South Africa. The South African government will however decline all visa applications from countries marked as high risk by the World Health Organisation.
This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday declared a national disaster because of the coronavirus outbreak and announced government would be imposing a travel ban, effective Wednesday.
The virus has infected more than 180 000 people around the world, killing more than 7500 people. At least 80 000 people have recovered from the virus.
Motsoaledi said travelers from medium risk countries including Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore, would require to submit a visa with a medical certificate which confirmed they had tested for the coronavirus and were negative.
Motsoaledi said the South African government had now revoked more than 8000 visas issued to Chinese nationals between January and February this year, along with 425 from Iran in the same period.
But Motsoaledi explained that it was possible for South Africa to allow people with passports from high risk countries into its borders. He said they would not be looking at a person’s nationality, but rather where they had been.
“We will look at the history, we will not chase you because of your nationality, we will look at where you have been,” he said, making an example that German citizens who had been in Africa for a prolonged period would be allowed entry, whereas those who were in Germany, would be denied entry.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said officials would work through the night to ensure that a government gazette to enforce the travel ban was issued on Wednesday.
Mbalula said charter-operated flights would be directed to land only at OR Tambo, Cape Town, King Shaka, Lanseria, Upington, Polokwane, Kruger-Mpumalanga and Port Elizabeth airports.
He also said South Africans who wanted to return home from high-risk countries would be allowed to return, but they would be placed in quarantine upon their return.
Meanwhile, Motsoaledi said government was prepared to extend visas until July, for foreigners who were already in the country.
“If those visas expire, we are prepared to extend them. But if someone wants to go back home, we cannot stop them.
“We are prepared to renew visas to July and then we can review them. They must still give good reasons, you cannot hide behind Covid-19,” said Motsoaledi.
Motsoaledi said the travel ban was only to stop the virus spreading, not demonize people.
“Our aim here is to stop the spread of the disease, not to alienate human beings. All we are doing is to slow the progress of the disease.
“If there is a snake in your house, you don’t eliminate it by putting your house on fire,” he said, adding that the country would still allow goods to enter from high-risk countries.
“The virus is not carried by goods, it is human beings,” he said.