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South Africa Reopens Borders to Africans, but Not to France, US, Among Others

South Africa has opened its borders to travelers the first time since it went into the Covid-19 lockdown in March. But travelers will be subject to conditions, including a valid negative coronavirus test, and the door is not open to all countries.

"To allow ease of travel from the African countries, 18 borders will be opened," said International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor on Wednesday, adding that anyone coming from the US, France, UK, India, Russia, Switzerland, or the Netherlands will not be allowed in.

South Africa has the highest amount of cases on the African continent with 674,000 confirmed cases, but it will not be allowing citizens from those countries with higher Covid-19 infection rates.

There are notable exceptions outside the tourism sector: "Only citizens who are investors, diplomats, high-skills visa holders, and business people will be allowed," Pandor added.

Tourists from the non-blacklisted countries are encouraged to visit South Africa, but cruise ships will not be allowed to dock and off-load passengers.

Arbitrary measures

The three international airports, including Oliver Tambo International in Johannesburg, King Shaka in Durban, and Cape Town International will be open, as well as a limited number of land borders.

The negative tests will need to be no more than 72 hours before travel, but passengers will also be subject to additional Covid-19 screening. If a tourist test positive, they will be quarantined and will have to pay for all their own expenses.

While the list seems to apply to essential measures, in reality, governments are putting in place arbitrary measures that resemble the patchwork standards that came from the 9/11 attacks in New York, says Linden Birns, aviation expert and head of Plane Talking, a public relations organization in South Africa.

"In some airports, you have to take off your shoes, in some, you have to pull out your laptop," says Birns. "The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other industry bodies wanted to make sure that with Covid-19 there was a global, consistent set of standards applied, so we don't have any of this confusion," he adds.

An international task force created by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN sister organization International Civil Aviation Organisation (IACO) came up with a set of guidelines for airline and airport safety in the time of Covid-19.

"Now we're seeing countries making up their own rules again - like South Africa," says Birns, who tells RFI that the ambiguous set of regulations that came out Wednesday night was only published for incoming travelers, not outgoing.

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