There’s anger in the United Kingdom (UK) over the decision to maintain a ban on all but essential travel to and from South Africa. The UK government has promised to keep reviewing the decision, but opposition politicians are voicing their frustration at the damage being done to businesses and families who are being kept apart.
The current rules mean only citizens or those with residency rights can enter the UK from a ‘red list’ country and those who do, have to pay for a very expensive period of isolation in an approved hotel.
Like thousands of other South Africans, the coronavirus pandemic has kept Rojeanne Molyneux from her friends and family. Almost four years ago, she swapped Cape Town for life in South West England. Along with her husband, she’s meant to be flying home for her son’s wedding in December.
“Since we heard of the wedding we had to postpone it three times, we had to change our flights three times. It is frustrating yes because there is a lot of costs involved so you want to get it right. Just the planning of it all. But most of all it just saddens me to not be with my family, to just postponing it that yes, everything will fall into place for December,” says Molyneux.
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Criticism from some politicians
For months, airports in the UK were used for little more than parking but as flights elsewhere have resumed, 54 countries remain on the so-called red list, among them, South Africa. A lack of transparency around the decision-making process by a body called the Joint Biosecurity Centre has been criticised by some politicians.
“We can’t find any information, they’re not writing back to us. They just seem to be a bit wizard of Oz about it,” says Huw Merriman, Conservative MPO, and Transport Select Committee Chairman.
“They don’t come under my remit, they’re a department of health body but I will very happily on behalf of the committee write to them because in my view at least they should very much share that information with a committee of Parliament,” says Grant Schapps, MP Secretary of State for Transport.
Ben Bradshaw, from the opposition Labour Party, has been campaigning for greater transparency on the travel ban.
“We’re in the worst possible situation in Britain that we have the most restrictive travel rules in Europe and yet we have the highest COVID rates. We’ve got the worst of both worlds. I think we’re doing really serious damage to long-time friends like South Africa and other countries, from treating them in this way, in a way that no other European Union country is treating them,” says Bradshaw.
South Africa to intensify efforts to get off the U.K.’s red list
For those affected by the harsh travel rules, the frustration continues.
“It is infuriating for us. We just want some clarity. If they said that the reason that South Africa is still on the red list is X then fine, we get it, we understand that. But there’s no clarity on that, it’s hugely frustrating,” says Andrew Molyneux.
Official advice remains not to travel to red list countries but the UK government has said they’re focused on ‘fully reopening international travel as soon as it is safe to do so.’
Coronavirus case numbers, variants of concern, and vaccination rates all factor into the decision-making process about the travel lists.
For those affected by it, they want more transparency and answers about when things might change. –Reporting by John Bevir