Qatar Airways will resume both inbound and outbound services to Cape Town and Johannesburg from Sunday (12 December), ahead of the holiday season.

While the airline continued operating after Omicron-related international travel restrictions were imposed it was not able to accommodate departing South African travellers.

The airline said it will now fly a double-daily service between Johannesburg and Doha operating and a daily service between Cape Town and Doha. It will operate Boeing 777 aircraft on both routes.

Departing South African customers who had to amend their travel plans as a result of the travel regulations can now rebook on these flights, the airline said on Friday (10 December).

While the resumption of Qatar Airways flights will be welcomed, South Africa still faces widespread international travel bans.

At the end of November South African scientists announced the discovery of the new B.1.1.529 variant – subsequently labelled as Omicron by the World Health Organisation.

The variant led to a worldwide closure of borders as uncertain governments move to protect their citizens from the new Covid-19 variant. Two weeks later, and not much has changed as countries around the world continue to impose strict restrictions on South Africa and neighbouring countries.

While it has subsequently emerged that Omicron has been in circulation for at least a month and may not have even originated in Africa, South Africa has borne the brunt of these travel restrictions as it was the first country to flag the variant through its world-class genomics facilities.

As of 8 December, 42 countries in all 6 WHO regions had reported the variant with many countries reporting sustained community spread.

A mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 10 December, South Africa has 96 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place. This is up from around 60 significant restrictions in mid-2021. These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.

By comparison, there are currently 21 moderate restrictions for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet specific entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests and quarantining.

Some of the key restrictions include:

  • Australia – Australia currently has South Africa marked as a level 4 ‘do not travel’ risk. As of 27 November, the Australian government announced that Australian citizens, permanent residents or their dependents who have been in South Africa in the past 14 days must undergo supervised quarantine for two weeks regardless of vaccination status upon returning to Australia. Direct flights from South Africa to Australia have also been suspended.
  • The UK – The UK has hinted that it could lift travel restrictions in the coming weeks, but is coming facing a rapidly spreading Omicron crisis of its own. “It has been very important in the immediate period, the immediate response to Omicron, to have very tough border measures to slow the arrival of the variant in this country, and that was the objective of those measures and continues to be,” said prime minister Boris Johnson.
  • The European Union – The EU said this week that it has no immediate plans to lift its travel restrictions on South Africa. The travel ban “was meant always as a time-limited measure”, one senior EU official told Reuters, adding however that there was no plan at the moment to lift it. “We are not yet working in that direction.”
  • The US – The Biden administration implemented a travel ban on South Africa at the end of November. In a subsequent press conference, the US government said that the ban was not introduced to punish South Africa but rather to protect the American people.

Read: A message to Ramaphosa from one of South Africa’s top travel bosses

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