For Beta or worse: experts called in to solve SA’s UK ‘red list’ headache
The crux of the matter is Beta, which is not necessarily an SA variant and has ‘not been detected for months’
SA and the UK have agreed to bring together scientists and advisers from both countries to conduct further research on the Covid-19 Beta variant, which stands at the heart of SA’s placement on the latter’s travel “red list”.
This is according to tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu, speaking at the Africa travel and tourism summit this week.
Sisulu said the placement of the country on the list created the incorrect perception that SA was a Covid-19 hotspot.
People from countries on the UK’s red list are required to quarantine upon arrival there, irrespective of whether they have been vaccinated, a situation which doesn’t just affect South Africans wanting to travel to the UK, but also impacts on British tourists who might want to travel to SA this summer.
According to Sisulu, the British government believes the Beta variant is an SA variant. This was backed up by comments made on the UK High Commission’s official Twitter account this week.
The red list, which covers over 50 countries, is in place to protect public health in the UK. We do not want current travel restrictions to be in place any longer than necessary and recognise the disruption they cause and the impact on people’s lives. https://t.co/uf6tq9GFow— UK in South Africa🇬🇧 (@ukinsouthafrica) September 20, 2021
Sisulu said: “They [the UK] are confusing the variant with South Africa because it was first detected here. But it does not mean it is a South African variant. We have agreed to have a joint team of scientists advise the South African and British governments so they can get us out of the red and come up with the right result.”
Responding to the commission’s tweets, respected scientist Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp) and a member of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, said data showed the Beta variant had basically been eliminated in SA.
We are finishing and releasing a paper showing that Delta completely replace Beta in SA and potentially in all of Africa. We look forward to engaging the UK scientists and for constructive discussion with UK as we both fight the pandemic. All SA data is public at GISAID. https://t.co/QE1uXSeaVW— Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) September 20, 2021
On September 18, before the UK’s decision to keep SA on the red list, De Oliveira said Beta had “not been detected for months”.
Delta, he tweeted, “dominates”.
SARS-CoV-2 variants over time in South Africa - Beta has not been detected for months, Delta, the same as the U.K. and everywhere in the world, dominates >99%. C.1.2 has been 'extinguished. Variants are not related to the science related to the travel ban from the U.K. pic.twitter.com/04nQAApX7L— Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) September 18, 2021
The tourism summit, which started on Monday, calls on all role players to reflect, reimagine and reignite a tourism sector in a bid to reawaken Africa, particularly in the wake of the affect of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The summit, the tourism department said, was the first pan-African summit of its sort, as it is being hosted in three cities simultaneously - Johannesburg, Durban and Lagos in Nigeria.
Reports have shown that tourism in countries with a high share of vaccinated people will rebound faster than in countries with a low share.Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu
“Gatherings such as this summit are crucial to the industry’s survival. Through such events, we connect, share ideas and create a new positive narrative of Africa, one that shifts from a continent in turmoil to one that is recovering steadily and ready to do business,” Sisulu said.
She said governments across the continent must show their commitment to reviving tourism as a crucial part of the economy.
One of the measures that needs to be taken, Sisulu said, is to ensure an effective vaccination rollout programme.
“Reports have shown that tourism in countries with a high share of vaccinated people will rebound faster than in countries with a low share.”
She said her department has drawn up and implemented the tourism sector recovery plan, which is in line with government’s broader economic reconstruction and recovery plan.
“Government’s commitment to tourism is unfailing. It has always recognised tourism’s crucial role in developing the economy. That it is listed as one of eight interventions in its recovery plan illustrates that point,” the minister said.