The South African industry feel UK's " knee-jerk reaction" to impose a temporary red list ban on six countries, including South Africa, is exaggerated.
The announcement follows the discovery of a new variant, Variant B.1.1.529, with an extremely high number of mutations. The variant has since been detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
David Frost, CEO of SATSA, said it "is far too early to tell what the impact of this new variant will be."
He said: “By imposing a blanked red list ban on several Southern African countries as a “precautionary” measure, the UK sends a signal to the world that they don’t believe that their vaccination programme will effectively deal with the variant. We have seen that Covid-19 vaccines have performed their role to reduce the severity of hospitalisation and death from the virus."
Frost said that the United Kingdom was a key market for South Africa.
“The announcement is devastating for the tourism industry, not only because of the impact to British travellers headed to South Africa during our peak season as their travel plans are disrupted but also because of the message it sends to the rest of the world. South Africa cannot consistently be punished for its advanced genomic sequencing abilities.
“We are extremely disappointed at the British government’s decision and trust that science will prevail and that this temporary ban will be lifted swiftly,” Frost added.
CEO of ASATA Otto de Vries said the UK red list announcement was a major setback for the South African travel industry.
“It’s Groundhog Day for the South African travel industry. The new ban is a knee-jerk reaction of the UK government that puts airlines, hotels, travel businesses and travellers in a very difficult situation.
“The world will, unfortunately, need to learn to live with Covid variants for the foreseeable future. While we await more clarity, there is currently no scientific evidence that the new variant is more resistant to the vaccine," said de Vries.
Infectious disease expert Professor Marc Mendelson said in a statement that the Covid-19 vaccines had proven themselves "extremely robust against all Sars-CoV-2 variants".
Shabir Madhi, the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor of Vaccinology, said vaccines prevented severe disease.
“We need to come to accept that breakthrough infections will remain with the first-generation vaccines. The sooner we come to accept it, the quicker we can recalibrate how to move forward. In the case of B1.1.529, we should learn from what transpired with Beta, which also showed resistance to vaccine-induced antibody, which was associated with no protection against mild Covid for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Nevertheless, the vaccine still conferred high protection against severe Covid due to Beta/Gamma in a Canadian study," he added.