South Africa Opens Its Land Borders – What About Air Travel?

As of February 13th, South Africa as a country moved to “Alert Level 3.” Under this restriction level, the nation’s 20 land borders, which were partially operational, will be fully operational. The 33 land borders which were closed will remain closed. This is the most significant change for South Africa’s borders – but what about air travel?

South Africa airport
International flights continue to operate to South Africa and require proof of a negative test or antigen test on arrival. Photo: Getty Images

Air travel at Alert Level 3

According to the South African government’s webpage detailing the restrictions and allowances for Alert Level 3, it looks like international air travel is permitted.

Section 42 on borders indicates that international air travel is restricted to the following three airports:

  • OR Tambo International Airport:
  • King Shaka International Airport
  • Cape Town International Airport

It then states that long-haul flight departures and landings are permitted during the hours of curfew and that all international travelers arriving at the airports listed must provide a valid certificate of a negative COVID-19 test, “recognized by the World Health Organisation, which was obtained not more than 72 hours before the date of travel.”

Singapore Airlines A350
O.R. Tambo Airport’s webpage indicates that flights like Singapore Airlines’ SQ478 are operating. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The problem of fake certificates

In the event of a traveler’s failure to submit a certificate as proof of a negative COVID-19 test, they must take an antigen test on arrival at their own cost. In the event of a traveler testing positive for COVID-19, he or she will be required to isolate at their own expense for a period of 10 days.

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With the requirement of a certificate showing proof of negative COVID-19 status and the difficulty or expense in some areas of the world to obtain a test, some travelers are resorting to fraudulent certificates.

For those entering South Africa, Fox 11 News notes that anyone caught at a border post with a fake COVID-19 certificate will be barred from visiting South Africa for a period of at least five years.

SAA A330
South African Airways is in the process of major restructuring and is expected to come out of the process a very different airline. Photo: Laurent Errera via Wikimedia Commons 

The problem at the other end

While international air travel appears to be permitted, it’s the rest of the world that takes issue with travel from South Africa. That’s because of the emergence of a new variant of COVID-19, marked as 501Y.V2. This new variant has damaged the country’s tourism industry as many countries and airlines have restricted travelers that have come from South Africa.

For example, with UAE authorities still upholding restrictions on travelers from South Africa, Emirates has had to suspend its services. Under current UAE restrictions, anyone who has visited or connected via South Africa in the last 14 days is not allowed into the country. Emirates said in a statement to Simple Flying,

“Emirates’ flights to South Africa will remain suspended until 28 February 2021, in line with recent government directives that restrict the entry of travelers originating from South Africa, into the UAE.”

Emirates, South Africa, Flight Suspension
Emirates has expanded its flight suspension to South Africa. Photo: Getty Images

Virgin Atlantic also extended its ban on flights to and from South Africa and may not resume flights until April as British Airways had announced the suspension of all South Africa flights until April 16th.

Thus, while it appears getting into South Africa shouldn’t be a huge problem at the moment, getting out and having a place to go might be a little more difficult.

Are you planning to travel to and from South Africa in the near future? Please share your experience with us in the comments.