DG of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Bans on international travel cannot stay in place indefinitely, and countries must do more to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within their borders, the World Health Organization (WHO) said at a virtual media briefing on Monday (July 27).

WHO emergencies programme head, Mike Ryan, said it was impossible for countries to keep borders shut for the foreseeable future. “Economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume,” he said. “Continuing to keep international borders sealed is not necessarily a sustainable strategy for the world’s economy, for the world’s poor, or for anybody else. So we really do have to make progress by beginning to do that (open borders), but do it in a way that is least risky.”

WHO dg, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said only with strict adherence to health measures, from wearing masks to avoiding crowds, would the world manage to beat the COVID-19 pandemic. “Where these measures are followed, cases go down. Where they are not, cases go up,” he said.

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, ceo of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, told Travel News that he agreed with the WHO’s remarks. “We need to get on with business. We, as South African government, should definitely take the lead and announce the date for international inbound flights coming into South Africa so that we can get our work going.”

Tshifhiwa said having a date would also help with outbound travel. “There are a lot of people in South Africa who want to travel overseas, and have got a full right to do so. Family members, people that are on spousal visas that may want to go home… we’re part of the international community. And we need to open up so that those that need to go up and down, for whatever reason that they wish to, are able to do so.”

Carla da Silva, Barsa chairperson, told Travel News that she too agreed with the WHO. “The aviation industry is made up of a worldwide transportation network, which makes it essential for global business. It generates economic growth, creates jobs, and facilitates international trade, travel and tourism.”

She said the impact of no regional and international flights on jobs was “catastrophic”, as the air transport industry, including airlines and their supply chain, were estimated to support US$5,2bn (R86,2bn) of GDP in South Africa. “The current air travel restrictions are resulting in thousands of job losses. Prior to the outbreak, the air transport and tourism industries in South Africa supported a total of approximately 472 000 jobs and contributed approximately R180bn to GDP each year.

“The unemployment rate in South Africa will rise drastically. The health of our economy is also very important – we need to save jobs,” said Carla.

She said aviation protocols and measures were already in place to mitigate the risks associated with the virus. “A phased approach in a controllable, responsible manner can be done, especially in aviation.”