Two years after the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 outbreak had reached pandemic status, South Africa announced it is joining myriad other countries in finally relaxing some of its travel restrictions.
In a statement earlier this month, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa shared that his country was doing away with the outdoor mask mandate and would be allowing vaccinated travelers to enter the country without producing a negative COVID-19 PCR test. Unvaccinated travelers may still enter the country with a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
“Over the past two years, we have taken unprecedented actions to strengthen our health system,” Ramaphosa said. “We are now at a watershed moment. We are now ready to enter a new phase in our management of the pandemic.”
South Africa has been one of the countries hardest hit in Africa by the coronavirus. In his March 22 statement, President Ramaphosa noted that more than 3.7 million cases and nearly 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19 had been recorded. But the daily numbers have significantly decreased since November, when the Omicron variant was first identified in the country. At this point, Ramaphosa said, 60 to 80 percent of the population have immunity to the virus, either from prior infection or vaccination. Therefore, he said, South Africa is moving to “live with the virus in our presence.”
Other loosening restrictions will allow stadiums and music venues to fill up to 50 percent capacity (though all attendees need to either be vaccinated or have a valid negative PCR test). Masks will still be required indoors and on public transit.
South Africa reopened its borders to tourism in the fall but previously required everyone to pre-test regardless of vaccination status. Ramaphosa said that for the remaining restrictions to lift, more South Africans will need to become vaccinated, though he didn’t say how many more.
“While the pandemic is not yet over, and while we remain cautious, we see many parts of our daily life returning to normal,” Ramaphosa stated.
As for those returning to the United States from South Africa, as of December 6, all international arrivals, vaccinated or not, still need to be tested for COVID no more than one calendar day before their flight to the U.S. And all foreign arrivals into the U.S. must be vaccinated. According to the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, PCR tests are widely available in South Africa.