OPINION: The UK is wrong about keeping SA on the red list – here’s why…

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Former Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom probably said it best on Monday evening, when he told the UK to stop being a ‘silly little island’ and remove South Africa from its troublesome red list. And he’s right… because the reasons that are being used to keep travel off-limits between the two countries are downright ridiculous.

Red list red mist: What are you playing at, Britain?

The vaccines used in Mzansi AND Britain are exactly the same. So keeping South Africa on a red list – forcing travellers between both nations to self-isolate for 10 days and pay tens of thousands of rand in mandatory quarantine fees – could be seen as a ‘prejudiced decision’. That’s according to the SA Tourism Services Association, anyway.

The harsh words from those involved with the industry are understandable. The UK and its sun-starved citizens make up an almighty part of tourism revenue in South Africa, and businesses that have barely survived for 18 months of this pandemic are now facing another gut-punch – and it’s all based on misinformation.

Is ‘bad science’ to blame for the UK’s stance on South Africa?

Take this poor excuse of a statement from the UK High Commission in SA on Monday. It’s a study in ignorance…

“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. The UK highly values its long and important relationship with South Africa.”

“Many countries have had to make decisions regarding border measures to protect public health. We recognise positive developments in SA – cases going down, data on variants of concern improving, and vaccinations rising. But we remain concerned about the continued presence of Beta given its potential ability to circumvent vaccines.”

Fears about Beta ‘completely unfounded’

Hang on a minute… the continued presence of Beta? The ability to circumvent vaccines? To quote a phrase from the north of England… ‘are we f***ing rate or what?’ – that’s really not what’s happening here. If this is the criteria that UK officials are using to keep South Africa on the red list, then they can rip the whole thing up. Because it’s bogus.

Let’s indulge our friends from the UK, just for a moment…

  • Yes, the Beta variant does have an impact on the Pfizer vaccine… but it’s marginal
  • Against other strains, Pfizer is 95% effective
  • The estimated efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine against the Beta variant is 94%
  • It doesn’t British politician to work out that the difference is a miserly, poxy 1%. So the ‘circumvention’ talk is daft…
  • According to the peer-reviewed MedRxiv Journal, coronavirus vaccines offer ‘substantial immunity’ against Beta.

Beta in South Africa? It’s not a big deal…

Right, that’s one false claim sorted. The other, regarding the actual prevalence of Beta, is comical. Leading virologist Tulio de Oliveira shared a chart on Sunday, mapping the dominance of Delta in South Africa. This variant has been so overpowering, it has all but ERADICATED Beta from the country. The C.1.2 variant of concern has also fizzled out.

Photo: Tulio de Oliveira

Red list latest: Experts vow to fight on

Just for perspective more than anything else, it’s worth looking at the case rates in both countries. The UK recorded over 36 000 new infections on Monday 20 September. South Africa barely racked up 1 500 positive tests today.

Britain is living with the virus thanks to its arsenal of jabs, and comparing countries isn’t always an exact science. But when a nation with 24 times more daily COVID-19 cases than Mzansi puts us on their red list, it’s puzzling.

Meanwhile, Professor de Oliveira has warned officials in Blighty that this battle is far from finished…

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