New variant puts South Africa in the risk zone for global closure

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New variant puts South Africa in the risk zone for global closure

South Africa is currently at the lowest level of lock-in measures.

South Africa’s recovery from its deepest economic downturn in almost three decades risks being derailed by the identification of a new variant of the coronavirus that led several European nations to ban travel to and from the country just before the summer holidays.

The restrictions provide another blow to South Africa’s battered tourism industry, which has succumbed to the burden of border closures and stop-start domestic locks over the past year and a half.

“This will be a significant setback for South Africa’s already vulnerable tourism sector, which was preparing to see an influx of offshore visitors, armed with hard currency, during the Christmas season,” said Siobhan Redford, an economist at FirstRand Group Ltd. Rand commercial bank.

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The United Kingdom, which accounts for the largest proportion of foreign tourists to South Africa, has already issued a temporary flight ban to the country and five of its neighbors due to concerns over the new discovery, called B.1.1.529 until a Greek letter is issued to it by the World Health Organization .

The move caused irritation from South African officials as researchers are still trying to determine if the new variant is more transmissible or more deadly than before. Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said the decision was premature, while Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said she planned to discuss flight bans with officials attending the World Tourism Organization’s General Assembly in Madrid next week.

“We must see this as a global issue, much like climate change itself, and that these variants will spread,” Public Prosecutor Pravin Gordhan said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Friday. “I am sure that in the next ten days or so there will be more clarity after a little more work” has been done about what impact the virus will have and how transmissible it is, he said.

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Travel and tourism contributed 7 percent to South Africa’s gross domestic product in times before the pandemic, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Even though it is below the global average, it still accounted for almost 1.5 million jobs in a country with an unemployment rate of 34.4% – the highest of 82 countries that Bloomberg tracked.

South Africa is currently at the lowest level of lockdown measures, but the new variant has prompted the so-called coronavirus command council and the cabinet to convene a meeting this weekend. President Cyril Ramaphosa could impose stricter domestic curbs, including a ban on the sale of alcohol, to spare health centers from the burden of drink-related accidents and violence in the coming days.

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