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EduSA Schools Cautiously Optimistic as Borders Re-open for International Travel

Published Bernice on Thursday, October 22, 2020

EduSA Schools Cautiously Optimistic as Borders Re-open for International Travel

After nearly seven months of uncertainty, international students are finally able to enter South Africa to take up study programmes, as South Africa re-opened its international borders on 1st October 2020.

The English language centres of Education South Africa (EduSA) were forced to close their doors in March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, EduSA, in conjunction with the South African private tourism sector, has been hard at work ensuring that its member schools are safe places of study for their students, while also advocating for the re-opening of international borders. In April, EduSA was one of the first school associations globally to release preliminary protocols for the safe operation of schools during the time of COVID-19. This formed part of a more comprehensive set of Standard Protocols for COVID-19 Operations prepared by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa. Protocols are being rigorously implemented by those schools that are currently in operation, while said protocols are constantly being updated as new knowledge on the novel coronavirus comes to light.

EduSA schools were authorised to re-open on 31st May, but, for most, this was not a financially viable option, as international borders were still closed. While some schools opened their doors to service existing students in the country, most continued to offer online tuition to its remaining students.

Schools have been waiting in limbo for borders to open, while the tourism sector continued to lobby with the South African government to re-open borders. The government has been adopting a “risk-adjusted strategy” and has been extremely prudent in re-opening the economy in general. Once South Africa withstood the initial COVID-19 surge over the winter, without overwhelming the healthcare system, the tourism economy has been incrementally re-opened, with the eventual partial re-opening of international borders implemented on 1st October 2020. This was a huge effort on the part of the tourism sector to prove that foreign visitors, in EduSA’s case; its English students, can visit, study and travel in South Africa safely, limiting risk for both locals and foreigners alike. This was a massive milestone, considering government’s initial prediction of border re-openings only taking place in February 2021. Following this announcement, those EduSA schools which remained closed have started building towards resuming face-to-face classes. Most schools will be operational by the beginning of December, while all schools plan to re-open by the middle of January 2021.

The re-opening of borders, however, is only the start of the industry’s recovery in South Africa. The government has implemented its own “traffic light system”, whereby nationals from countries with a low- (green) or medium- (amber) risk may enter the country as before, although with COVID-19-specific entry requirements, while nationals from high- (red) risk countries are subject to restricted travel.

There are some very positive outcomes for the South African English language sector as a result of these developments:

  • The African continent has been designated low-risk status. Many African students take up an English course in South Africa as a pre-cursor to tertiary education in the country, so this, coupled with their proximity to South Africa, bodes well for the recovery of the African market, as tertiary institutes are permitted to open for the start of the academic year from February - March 2021.
  • Saudia Arabia; a key market, is considered low- or medium- risk at the time of writing.
  • Nationals from high risk countries can still enter South Africa should they have a minimum stay of at least 3 months or a valid non-leisure visa, such as a study visa.
  • Nationals from high risk countries can also spend 10 days in a low- or medium-risk country and then travel onwards to South Africa. For example, a national from a high-risk country could visit a neighbouring African country such as Namibia for a short holiday and then travel onto South Africa.
  • The borders have re-opened in time for the spring and summer seasons, traditionally popular times to travel and study in South Africa.

While these developments are reason for optimism, the high-risk country classification does have its own challenges:

  • The list is supposed to be updated every two weeks, which causes booking uncertainty amongst potential travellers, as countries can be added or removed from the list every two weeks.
  • A number of important, visa-exempt markets are currently on the red list at the time of writing; including Brazil, Italy, Germany and France.

There is intense advocating underway by the tourism and transport sectors, as well as the Western Cape provincial government, to fully re-open international borders and to do away with the red list completely, considering the stringent screening processes already in place at all ports of entry. The first red list update on 19th October resulted in a reduction of the number of high-risk countries from 60 to 22, which in itself seems positive enough, although key EFL markets form a large part of the current red list. There most likely will also be a lead-in time for the efficient implementation of these new immigration directives at a consular level.

COVID-19 entry requirements for South Africa:

  • A valid certificate of a negative COVID-19 PCR test, obtained not more than 72 hours (3 days) from the time of departure from the country of origin to South Africa from an accredited laboratory and in line with the World Health Organization requirements.
  • Failure to present proof of a valid and negative test will require the traveller to undergo an antigen test for SARS-CoV-2 at the port of entry at the traveller’s own cost. The test cost is €10. Travellers are strongly advised to test in their home country, to avoid delays at the ports of entry due to testing on arrival.
  • Upon arrival in the port of entry, the traveller will be screened for any COVID-19 symptoms and/or for contact with people who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus.
  • Travellers must provide proof of accommodation address should they need to self-quarantine at the time of arrival in the country, subject to the accommodation allowing for self-quarantine.
  • Should the traveller display any COVID-19–related symptoms or have been in contact with an infected person, they will be expected to take a mandatory COVID-19 test. This test will be at the traveller’s cost. If the COVID-19 test comes back positive, the traveller will be subjected to a 10-day quarantine at a designated hotel site. The accommodation at a quarantine site will be at the traveller’s cost.
  • All travellers will be asked to download the COVID Alert South Africa mobile app. Information on the app can be found here.
  • Travel insurance is mandatory for all travellers to cover any cost of testing or quarantine.
  • It is the responsibility of the airlines to check that passengers boarding flights to South Africa meet the requirements of entry.

Interest has slowly started to build for those intending to study English in South Africa, but mainly from the African markets, as there is more certainty with regards to travel due to their risk rating. There have also been many students from the rest of Africa on standby, waiting for borders to re-open, which augurs well for the industry restart. While the current high-risk list poses its own challenges, the industry is in a much more positive position than what was expected at this time only a few short months ago. Lobbying efforts have proved successful over the period of the pandemic, so there is precedent for prudent optimism that borders may fully re-open before the end of the year, although COVID-19 has shown the world that nothing is certain and circumstances can change quickly. EduSA CEO Torrique Borges reflects, “The re-opening of borders is the first hurdle in our recovery process. South Africa needs to use this time to communicate to the world that not only are we open, but that we are a safe destination for travellers. There is a need to control what we can and stimulate the appetite for travel to South Africa as much as possible, during a time where international demand for travel is suppressed.”

As a bucket-list, outdoor destination for many, where visitors often explore the magnificent nature in a naturally social-distanced environment, South Africa is well-placed to claw back tentative language students during its summer in the first half of the new year.

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