International travel should reopened with caution, say experts ahead of the South Africa's downgrading to lockdown Level 1. Restrictions expected to be lifted include the curfew, limited liquor trading hours and the ban on international travel.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to address the nation this week, following extensive consultation meetings ostensibly regarding the possibility of moving to Level 1.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) says the country may even be ready for a complete lifting of all lockdown restrictions. But DA shadow health minister Siviwe Gwarube urges that any lifting of restrictions, especially on border crossing, should be done under the full custodianship of the department of health.
"It is also quite important that as we are considering the move to level one that the department of health takes the lead, especially if the international borders are going to be open-both for inbound and outbound travel. It is important that we have got some really solid screening mechanism at every port of entry to make sure that we don't see a second surge," says Gwarube.
Economist Professor Phillipe Burger says while most economic activity in the country was operational, it could take months for people feel safe enough to travel across borders or overseas. Another stalling factor could be quarantine requirements by airlines and government.
"The big question is to what extent international travel will be allowed because there might still be a quarantine period linked it. I know airlines such as Emirates, for instance require you to take a Covid-19 test two days before your date of departure," says Burger.
The economy stood an obvious chance of improvement, but Burger warns that some sectors may only normalise next year.
"I have been looking at Google's mobility data for the country… recreation and those kinds of activities are only about 10% where they were before the lock down, while in the retail sector groceries and pharmacies are back to normal and most have already returned to normal. Overall, I think Level 1 will only produce a marginal change in the economy because most sectors have already been operating.
Business travel is likely to see a permanent decline compared to pre-Covid-19 performance, because of how the pandemic forced businesses to switch to remote office technologies such as Zoom, he concludes.
Gwarube says the country is showing signs of readiness for the opening up of borders and other economic activities.
"It is important that as we are seeing dwindling numbers of new infections of Covid-19 and we have built some kind of capacity within the provinces to be able to handle the remaining active cases and if there may be surges that may come from increased economic activity. Considering that is now the case it is important that we should shift the focus to opening up the economy, particularly tourism in order for us to be able to really stimulate the South African economy."
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