Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has dropped some serious hints that South Africa’s borders may soon reopen for international travel, with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) considering the proposal as part of their strategy for Level 1 lockdown.
International travel set for Level 1 return?
Mbalula had received some concerning reports from passengers that airlines running regional and domestic routes aren’t following the hygiene and social distancing protocols set out by the NCCC, and visited OR Tambo International Airport on Saturday 12 September to see for himself.
After taking a tour, Mbalula addressed the media and mentioned the calls for the reopening of international travel during Level 1 lockdown, which is believed to be fast approaching.
“Very soon, international travel will be opened. We will announce measures as and when that happens,” said Mbalula.
The tourism sector has pleaded with government to reopen international travel and use it as the cornerstone of economic recovery in South Africa, with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) saying earlier in the week that all of the protocols are in place to do so.
“Tourism can be South Africa’s economic lifeline, but only if international borders are opened up soon,” said TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.
“We are appealing to the government to safely open our borders. Our industry is ready, our source markets are waiting to travel, so let’s save jobs and the economy.”
Mbalula has mixed review of airlines’ performance
Mbalula said that he had mixed conclusions regarding the performance of airlines who have been transporting travellers across domestic routes, saying that while they had adapted well to the challenging circumstances overall, some were not playing ball.
“I think that the airlines have adapted very well to the new way of life, but from a compliance point of view, some of them have totally lapsed,” he said.
“There is no enforcement of masks and there is no sanitising and all that. We want to deal with that.”
Mbalula had also visited King Shaka International Airport in Durban on Friday, and applauded the efforts of staff there.
“As government reviews and awaits to decide on international travel, it is important for us domestically to master compliance to regulations,” he said.
“Some of the airlines are not observing the regulations onboard,” he said.
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