In a landmark move the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its advisory policy, opening up travel for US citizens that have been fully vaccinated.
The US is one of South Africa’s largest source markets for inbound travel. At present approximately 62m people in the US, or around 20% of the country’s population, have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and given the green light to start travelling again.
The CDC recommendations now allow fully vaccinated US citizens to travel domestically without the need to quarantine or to test for COVID-19 before or after travel. Its recommendations also allow vaccinated US citizens to travel internationally without the need to quarantine. Vaccinated citizens do not need to get tested before leaving the US unless the destination they are visiting requires it, however they do need to show a negative test result (or documentation of recovery from COVID-19) before boarding a flight to the United States. The CDC also recommends that these travellers get tested three to five days after international travel. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the CDC’s website travellers should still take steps to protect themselves and others. “You will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transport. Fully vaccinated international travellers arriving in the Unites States are still required to get tested within three days before their flight and should get tested three to five days after their trip,” advises the CDC.
“The updated guidance does not apply to unvaccinated people. The CDC still advises anyone who hasn’t been fully vaccinated to avoid travel,” it says.
Ceo of TBSCA, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, said that the CDC’s announcement, which endorses the idea that it is safe for vaccinated people to start travelling again, would speed up the recovery of the industry and allow vaccinated travellers to start returning to South Africa.
He said the TBCSA was engaging with government to implement a clear travel policy for vaccinated people, which would remove some of the barriers to travel that were currently required.
“This announcement will be a catalyst to speed up our discussions to allow vaccinated travellers easier access to South Africa,” he said.
Md of Cape Xtreme Adventure Tours and Cape to Addo Safaris, Barry O’Donoghue, said that anything that removed travel barriers and encouraged people to start travelling again was positive news for the industry.
“The US is one of our largest source markets and we have seen a marked increase in enquiries from this region in the last few weeks, as the US has moved forward rapidly with its vaccination programme. The US tour operators that we are engaging with are upbeat and excited about booking trips to Africa again and we have just received the good news that a group of 200 US students will be confirming their booking with us for travel in May and June, which will substantially alter our company’s position. The CDC’s endorsement of travel for vaccinated citizens will surely add fuel to this momentum,” said Barry.
“We have been lucky that South Africa only has a PCR requirement for travel, as quarantine requirements, which are still in place in many countries, are devastating for forward bookings. PCR test requirements are still cumbersome, expensive and risky to manage though, and if this requirement could be removed for vaccinated travellers it would help both the inbound and outbound industry to recover even faster,” added Barry.
Commenting on how outbound travel would be affected by the US announcement, gm of Travel Counsellors South Africa, Mladen Lukic, told Travel News that, more than anything else, the speed that South Africa rolled out its own vaccination programme would be the real game changer to restart South Africa’s travel industry.
“Everything, including the reinstatement of essential air connectivity to and from South Africa, hinges upon this and that until our vaccination programme is well underway, foreign countries are unlikely to reopen their borders to us,” he added.
Head of travel insurance at TIC, Jason Veitch, was more positive however, describing the UK and US vaccination rollout to millions of citizens per day, as unprecedented and saying that the world was on the cusp of seeing international travel restarting in a meaningful way.
Will this announcement spur Delta Air Lines to resume its flights to South Africa any sooner? Director of sales for Africa, Middle East and India, Jimmy Eichelgruen, had this to say:
“Our hope is that we will start our service between Johannesburg/Cape Town and the USA in June. However, of course, this is still subject to any travel restrictions limiting international travel due to the ongoing pandemic and based on advance passenger bookings and projections. Delta is committed to serve South Africa with nonstop service when it is commercially viable to do so.”