THE United States in November will re-open air travellers from China, India, Britain and many other European countries who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House has announced, rolling back tough pandemic-related travel restrictions imposed beginning early last year.

The decision, announced by White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients, marked an abrupt about-face for President Joe Biden’s administration, which last week said it was not the right time to lift any restrictions. The restrictions had prevented tens of thousands of foreign nationals from flying to the United States to see family members and slashed business travel.

The curbs on non-U.S. citizens were first imposed on air travellers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to other countries in the following months, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.

The United States will admit fully vaccinated air travellers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. The existing policy had barred non-U.S. citizens who had been in those countries within 14 days.

Zients did not give a precise start date beyond saying “early November.”

The new policy was announced ahead of the United States hosting leaders from Britain, India, Japan and Australia at the White House this week, and Biden making his first speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the announcement “a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.”

Americans travelling from abroad who are not vaccinated will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel and will need to show proof of purchasing a viral test to be taken after arrival in the United States.

Countries during the pandemic have imposed numerous air travel restrictions and bans in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. The policies devastated international travel and tourism and shook the airline industry, which carried out a series of service cutbacks and employee furloughs.

Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said that through late August, international air travel was down 43% from pre-pandemic levels.

British Airways CEO and Chairman Sean Doyle said the news “marks a historic moment and one which will provide a huge boost to Global Britain as it emerges from this pandemic.”

Shares in British Airways parent IAG were up 11%.

Germany’s U.S. ambassador, Emily Haber, welcomed the “Great news” on Twitter, adding, “Hugely important to promote people-to-people contacts and transatlantic business.”


The White House said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will decide which vaccines qualify, including if those not approved by U.S. regulators will be acceptable. Foreign nationals will need to present proof of vaccination before travel and will not be required to quarantine upon arrival.

There will be some exceptions to the vaccine policy, officials said, including for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated. The new rules do not yet apply to travellers crossing land borders with Mexico and Canada.

Some Europeans and others on the restricted country list have been allowed to travel to the United States including students, journalists and others getting permission from the State Department.

Zients said the United States is again extending restrictions that bar non-essential travel through October 21.

Critics have said travel restrictions no longer make sense because some countries with high COVID-19 rates are not on the restricted list while some countries on the list have the pandemic under control.

The U.S. Travel Association trade group previously estimated that the restrictions, if they ran to the end of the year, would cost the U.S. economy $325 billion in total losses and 1.1 million jobs.

Airlines heavily lobbied the White House to lift the restrictions but failed to get them lifted in time for the summer travel season. The White House said in July it had concerns about the highly infectious coronavirus Delta variant and a rising number of U.S. COVID-19 cases.

Zients said on Sept. 15 that given the rise of the Delta variant, it was not the right time to lift any travel restrictions. Asked on Monday what changed since then, Zients cited rising global vaccinations, adding: “The new system allows us to implement strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Zients said the new system will include collecting contact tracing data from passengers travelling into the United States to enable the CDC to contact travellers exposed to COVID-19.

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, China and the United States have sparred over air services. In addition, Biden in April added new travel restrictions on India. Biden also reversed plans by Trump in January to lift restrictions on European countries.

(CNN)South Africa will start to ease several Covid-19 restrictions as infection rates decrease in the country, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday.

Amongst other measures, the nationwide curfew will be reduced to 11pm until 4am, the size of gatherings can increase to 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors, and restrictions on alcohol sales will be further reduced. The measures will be reviewed in two weeks, he said.
Ramaphosa said the country now has enough vaccine doses to cover the entire adult population, with more than a quarter of adults receiving at least one dose.
The president encouraged everyone to get vaccinated to allow the country to get back to normal.
"If many people are not vaccinated and remain vulnerable to infection, the chance of new and more dangerous variants could emerge," he said.
He added that vaccine passports or certificates "that can be used as proof of vaccination for various purposes and events" are being discussed.
Some citizens have decried the proposed vaccine passport likening it to apartheid era pass laws that required Black South Africans to carry a document, known as 'dompas,' to show their authorization to be in certain places.
"Vaccine passports? I like my freedom, thanks. You can keep your medical dompas. This is going to end up in the Constitutional Court. No doubt about that," wrote Twitter user Dwayne Esau.
South African researchers have been keeping an eye on a new variant C.1.2 they say has appeared in South Africa, as well as in seven other countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania.

A strict lockdown

South Africa went into strict lockdown in June due to a devastating third wave driven by the more transmissible Delta variant.
In recent days, the wave has been easing considerably in most provinces. The Health Ministry reported 3,961 new cases Sunday, an improvement from the 15,036 new cases on June 27 just before lockdown was imposed.
However, Ramaphosa warned that the third wave is yet to end, imploring citizens to comply with health precautions in order to contain the pandemic.
"The third wave is not yet over, and it is only through our actions individually and collectively that we will be able to reduce the number of new infections," he said.
This comes amid a slow vaccine rollout across the continent which the President dubbed as "vaccine apartheid" in June.
The World Health Organization stated that most African countries are unlikely to meet the global goal to vaccinate 10% of their vulnerable population by September.
Source - CNN


FOR the month of July, the rural village of Mbotyi in the Ingquza Hill Municipality in the Eastern Cape has been home to the non-profit Right to Care’s (RTC) rural vaccination team. The team of about 35 consists of drivers, nurses, project managers, data capturers, IT specialists, pharmacists and an emergency medicine specialist.

After helping the Eastern Cape Department of Health with vaccinations during the Sisonke Study period, RTC has focused its efforts on vaccinating the deep rural areas of the Eastern Cape. Wendy Ovens, who is running the pilot project, chose the Ingquza Hill Municipality as its location.

“I know a lot of the population is along the coast. I also know that this area really struggles with access to healthcare services. It’s an area that’s incredibly vulnerable. It’s off the beaten track. It’s not on the N2 … you have to want to come here,” says Ovens, a former urban planner.

26 July 2021: From left, Andile Nombekana and Sidney Zeeman carry a refrigerator to the vaccination site. The Covid-19 vaccines are collected at St Elizabeth’s hospital in Lusikisiki a few days a week and kept in refrigerators to maintain the required temperature before being transported to the different sites.

Vaccinating in the municipality, which has a mix of high-traffic rural towns and low-density, hard-to-reach rural villages, required a varied approach. In the towns, such as Lusikisiki, they set up vaccination sites at the municipal offices next to the post office on days people were collecting their grants, as well as outside the Boxer supermarket, a high-footfall area. In the more rural areas, such as Makwaleni, Mbotyi or KwaBhumbuta, they set up vaccination sites in schools or community halls.

Things did not always go according to plan. The riots in KwaZulu-Natal in July led to the delay of grant payments, which affected the scheduling of vaccination efforts that were to coincide with those grant payments. RTC was forced to amend their plans. 

26 July 2021: People wait for the mobile pay point from the South African Social Security Agency to arrive. Elderly people walk long distances to collect their grants. The pay point was meant to open at 7 am but arrived only at 10 am.

When vaccinating KwaBhumbuta, the demand was so high, they ran out of vaccines. Sidney Zeeman, the disaster medicine specialist on the team, had to reroute vaccines from two quieter sites in order to not have to send anyone home frustrated.

Other hitches involved transport to and from rural areas. According to Ovens, the team needed to replace 15 tyres in one week. Reflecting on his experience in the rural areas, Zeeman says: “A plan is a basis for change.” 

26 July 2021: Ncebakazi Qhekeza, from Port St Johns, is a locum pharmacist in the team responsible for preparing vaccine doses. Having just finished her community service, she is grateful to be part of the team of vaccinators, especially as she is able to help in her hometown as well.

Despite the long days and difficult environment, members of the team remain motivated and are energised by the knowledge of the importance of their role in responding to the pandemic. 

“As is apparent in the US, Covid-19 is going to become the disease of the unvaccinated. If we don’t vaccinate in our rural areas, they’re going to become the unvaccinated; they’re going to become the next Covid-19 hotspots. In post-apartheid South Africa, that would be a complete travesty. We can’t let that happen,” says Ovens.

The pilot worked well with RTC vaccinating more than 4 000 people in July. The numbers could have been higher if they were able to vaccinate everyone regardless of age in the towns and the hard-to-reach areas. National guidelines, however, mean they will have to return to the outlying areas they have already visited to vaccinate the age groups they missed in the first round.

26 July 2021: Majajile Mzatubana, 86, was told by her children that vaccinations were taking place at the community centre and came to get hers.
26 July 2021: A nurse waits for vaccinated people to enter the observation tent where their blood pressure gets taken and they are observed for adverse reactions for 20 minutes. In the background, Sidney Zeeman makes sure all the vaccination sites have what they need.
26 July 2021: ‘I am very, very happy to get vaccinated,’ says Zitetele Bambanani, 91. ‘I have been waiting since the first day I heard the news.’ Bambanani lives in Makwaleni, which falls under the Ingquza Hill local municipality and is 40km from the closest clinic in Lusikisiki.
26 July 2021: Mawelisile Madlebe, 56, after she got her vaccination in Makwaleni. Like many of those who came to be vaccinated on the day, Madlebe heard about the vaccinations from her neighbours.
26 July 2021: From left, nurse Sechaba Phonkontsi and data capturer Lonwabo Nyati go about their work at a homestead as neighbours look on. Sitting on the ground behind the bench waiting to be vaccinated is Mnyai Zidlele, 91. The team was asked if they could visit the homestead to vaccinate those unable to walk to the site.
27 July 2021: A man leaves a vaccination site outside Boxer, one of the big supermarkets in Lusikisiki, while others wait their turn outside. Healthcare non-profit organisation Right to Care set up the site hoping to vaccinate eligible people on the way to do their shopping.
27 July 2021: The Right to Care team erects a tent outside the community hall in Mbotyi village for their vaccination drive the next day.
28 July 2021: Residents listen as Wendy Ovens, managing director of Right to Care, explains the need for Covid-19 vaccinations, pointing out that everyone in Mbotyi had received vaccinations for diseases such as polio and measles as children.
28 July 2021: A community hall in KwaBhumbuta is packed with people waiting to be vaccinated. On this day, the demand is the highest yet and the sites run out of vaccines, requiring vaccine doses to be sourced from less busy sites.
28 July 2021: Nomaputukezi Mkovana poses proudly for a photograph after getting her Covid-19 vaccination in KwaBhumbuta.
28 July 2021: Phumlani Jani, who has just been vaccinated at Mbotyi community hall, says he was sceptical at first but became convinced when it was explained to him that had also been vaccinated as a child.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 8,024,502 as of Sunday morning, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 202,915, while some 7,302,535 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease so far.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Ethiopia are among the countries with the most cases in the continent, according to the agency.

South Africa has recorded the most COVID-19 cases in Africa with 2,854,234 cases, while the northern African country Morocco reported 902,694 cases as of Sunday morning.

In terms of the caseload, southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while central Africa is the least affected region in the continent, according to the Africa CDC.