SA prof weighs in on border closure: 'There's no reason why tourism poses a greater risk than any other sector opened'
Professor Alex van den Heever, the chair in the field of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at the Wits School of Governance, believes there is 'no reason why tourism poses a greater risk than any other sector by being open'.
He believes that there's “no public health reason to do so”.
According to PWC’s Public and Private Growth Initiative (PPGI) Report (2019), tourism is the number one industry in South Africa with the greatest potential to stimulate inclusive economic growth and employment, creating the greatest multiplier effect – in terms of jobs, growth and export potential.
"Besides being able to reopen safely, South Africa must as far as possible avoid the requirement of a quarantine period. It is imperative that safe alternatives to quarantine approaches also be considered. Careful consideration needs to be given to developing such an approach as it will remove a considerable barrier to international travel. Workable options can be developed in conjunction with infectious disease specialists and institutionalised into health protocols, " he said.
Van den Heever said the country needs to manage the risk to the general community and the traveller in an environment in which the disease is already present.
“In the South African context, if an infected person comes to our country, it would be much the same as if someone from Benoni travelled to Johannesburg. Almost every area in South Africa was seeded, so we will only see a bubbling up of the virus if we back off from being careful and expose communities to super spreading events. So we need to be cautious and adhere to health protocols until there is a safe and effective vaccine.
“The questions we should be asking are, how we should manage the risk of living with the virus, and how can we best mitigate the consequences of people being positive in different contexts. We can’t just shut everything down. The main issue is preventing super spreading by being careful and attentive to any instances where protocols need to be updated or where protocol adherence is a problem” he explained.
According to Van den Heever, if good protocols are adhered to, South Africa should be able to manage the risks posed by Covid-19 positive travellers as well as those situations where travellers can be infected within South Africa’s borders.
"Much of South Africa is already in this position – with open businesses subject to health protocols. It is therefore unclear what additional risks are posed by international travel that is not already present and managed locally," he added.
South Africa’s Tourism sector has adopted stringent protocols through the Tourism Business Council of South Africa’s (TBCSA) Travel Safe – Eat Safe programme, which has been informed by all international and local health and safety guidelines, including World Health Organization (WHO), National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD), and Department of Health (DoH), reviewed by an epidemiologist and endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said South Africa’s tourism economy can be opened up safely if it follows global best practice and the comprehensive protocols they have developed. "Travelling is as safe as going to the supermarket and many other things we do every day, " he said.