South African companies desperate to restart their business travel programmes can take heart in the fact that Europe is slowly opening up to vaccinated travellers, including those from red or ‘high-risk’ countries like South Africa.
This comes as South Africa’s vaccination programme finally picks up steam, with reports that the under 35 cohort could begin to register for their COVID-19 jab as early as September.
“The 35+ age groups are well underway,” says Oz Desai, GM at Corporate Traveller. “And we’re hearing about more and more vaccination sites opening up on a daily basis. This means a fair percentage of business travellers could be fully-vaccinated and ready to hit the road in a matter of weeks, which is very good news indeed.” Sherpa, who powers Flight Centre Travel Group’s interactive COVID-19 Travel Map, has gathered data and information around the latest countries to welcome vaccinated South Africans.
At the latest count, fully-vaccinated South Africans can now visit: France, Switzerland, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Belarus, Iceland and Norway. While the likes of Albania and North Macedonia are open to visitors regardless of their vaccination status.
It’s important to note though, that the situation still remains fluid with changes and updates noted on a daily basis. A necessary caveat? Always confirm the latest situation with your Travel Expert.
“While there are still restrictions in place for many of these countries, at least for fully-vaccinated visitors, quarantine requirements are falling away,” says Desai. “Quarantine requirements have been a massive barrier. What company can afford the cost of quarantine – never mind the time lost as employees see out their 10- to 14-day isolation period.”
It’s also important to note that both the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, available to South Africans, are approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Only individuals who have received a vaccine which is approved by the EMA – and completed their full course – are considered fully vaccinated.
France comes to the party
In exciting news overnight, France has joined Switzerland as the latest European country to accept fully-vaccinated travellers from South Africa. Now all vaccinated persons coming from countries classified as green, orange or red can enter France without any restrictions. Happily, this includes South Africa, which is considered a ‘red country’ with active virus circulation and the presence of variants of concern.
Unvaccinated international travellers must have a compelling reason to enter France and present a negative RT-PCR or antigen test less than 48 hours prior to departure. They will also be required to undergo an antigenic test upon arrival and a 10-day self-isolation period monitored by the authorities.
According to French officials, proof of vaccination is only valid if it can attest to the completion of a complete vaccination schedule, i.e. 2 weeks after the 2nd injection for double injection vaccines (Pfizer) and 4 weeks after the injection for single-injection vaccines (Johnson & Johnson).
Switzerland lifted all testing and quarantine requirements for fully-vaccinated travellers at the end of June – including countries with worrying COVID-19 variants like Brazil, Canada and South Africa.
“Of course, while this is significant, the situation remains fluid and will do for some time,” says Desai. “It remains critically important to use a TMC or travel expert before booking any travel. They’ll be able to advise you on travel requirements for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers, any new restrictions in place – as well as airlines, fares and routes to book.”
Waiting on the United Kingdom – and others
“While we’re thrilled with the news coming out of France, it’s understandable that South African companies are keeping a close eye on the UK,” says Desai. “Unfortunately, South Africa remains firmly on their red list.”
And they’re not alone. Other countries in Europe, like Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal continue to impose strict rules on travellers from countries still considered ‘high-risk’. Belgium, for example, still has entry bans placed on travellers who have spent any time in selected countries during the past 14 days (including, you guessed it, South Africa) – while Belgium nationals returning home from countries considered highly affected by the Coronavirus will face PCR tests on the first and seventh day after arrival as well as a mandatory 10-day quarantine in some cases.
But Desai is optimistic. “Countries are continuing to adjust their restrictions – and the fact that South Africa’s vaccination programme has now ramped up significantly can only bode well for business travel. The next question will be around vaccine certificates and the formats accepted for international travel. In the meantime, clients can keep in close contact with their dedicated Travel Consultant – or use Flight Centre’s travel map as an important resource.”