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Saturday, January 29, 2022

South African students express concern over travel restrictions halting their ability to return from home – Annenberg Media

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Ntsang McCormick, a senior at the University of South Africa, who lived in Lesotho and Kenya before coming to the University of South Africa, is now unable to travel to and from South Africa to visit her family at Christmas due to recent travel restrictions imposed on South African countries.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden entered a US travel ban on South Africa and seven other countries in South Africa, in full effect in response to the variant of the novel coronavirus spreading in South Africa, as reported last week.

Information about the new variant, called omicron, is still being collected, but more than 50 countries in Europe, North Africa, North America and Asia have joined the United States in issuing the travel restrictions. The restrictions have certain allowances, but not student visas.

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“My whole family has been vaccinated, fortunately, but, you know, we still can’t even go home for Christmas now because of the ban,” McCormick said. “But then there are people who go back to the UK or countries in Europe who don’t have problems with that, though. [those countries] It also has cases. So, it’s like direct discrimination frankly.”

Students from affected countries have expressed concern about the ban, which could force them to change their plans for the upcoming holiday season. For Robin Sue Davis, a friend of McCormick and another South African student studying abroad, the “real fear” is coming home and turning around there.

“I can understand that for some people who are stuck abroad it could mean losing their jobs,” Davies said. “It could also mean having to pay rent or losing your ‘home,’ even though you can’t go home.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has reacted in opposition to the travel ban and called for the immediate undoing of these restrictions. He described the travel ban decisions as “extremely disappointing” and “not based on science”.

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Although cases of the omicron variant have been reported in Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic, no travel ban has been imposed on any European country so far.

“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, travel bans targeting Africa are attacking global solidarity,” WHO Africa Director Machidiso Moeti said in a statement.

Davies also expressed concern about the cost of quarantine, which can be expensive. However, the ban could also be costly for affected governments.

With South Africa and other Southern African countries relying heavily on the Southern Hemisphere summer to provide a boom in tourism to help recover from the economic damage previously caused by COVID-19, the travel ban deals another round of major economic blows to already struggling economies.

Basetsana Sehara, a preparatory school teacher in Maun, Botswana, explained in a phone interview how the loss of tourism could be detrimental to the well-being of South Africa.

“We were expecting a lot of travelers from the UK and the US, but I don’t think that will happen, so it will drain the tourism industry during the festive season. All bookings from flights to safaris to hotels and activities will probably be canceled. So it will be bad. Really if anything like that happens; if the travel ban continues for the whole month of December.”

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Sehara also described her personal experience in Botswana that when “people really believe or feel they are left with no choice, the situation is going to get really bad. If more stress continues to happen, it will affect areas from the country’s productivity to increased crime and death rates and everything.”

“We call on all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our sister countries in Southern Africa to reverse their decisions immediately and urgently,” South African President Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.


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