- Travelers coming to South Africa must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or provide a negative PCR test result not older than 72 hours.
- These regulations leave children aged 5 to 12, who cannot be vaccinated in South Africa, and their families in a difficult position.
- PCR tests show positive results long after children have already recovered, disrupting family vacations.
- But there is a way for children who have already had Covid-19 to avoid the PCR test en route to South Africa.
- To do this, travelers must apply for a “fit to fly” document or a “letter of exemption” from the South African Department of Health.
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South Africa requires all incoming travelers to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or provide a negative PCR test result, making traveling with children an expensive and complicated exercise.
Travel to and from South Africa has been simplified in recent months, with most Covid-19 restrictions both locally and abroad being eased. This has seen a rebound in travel since the start of the year, with foreign tourists flocking to South Africa and locals finally having the chance to holiday abroad.
South Africa welcomed nearly 100,000 foreign visitors in February, up 45% from the previous month and more than 770% from the previous year, according to recent data from Stats SA. More South Africans are also travelling, with arrivals and departures over the past three months increasing by 20%.
And while signs of recovery have been welcomed by South Africa’s beleaguered tourism industry and travel-starved locals, the government’s continued PCR testing policy is proving a thorn in the side for both.
Travelers wishing to enter South Africa have two options: show they have been vaccinated or provide a negative Covid-19 test result that is less than 72 hours old. Only children under five are exempt from South Africa’s vaccine or PCR requirements.
This leaves children aged 5 to 12 in an awkward position.
South Africa’s vaccination roll-out is only open to people aged 12 and over. For South African travelers with children aged 5-12, this means a negative PCR test is inevitable.
Added to the cost and hassle of acquiring a PCR test is the very real risk of a positive result without any symptoms. This can happen when someone has already recovered from Covid-19 months before. And, according to travel insurers, it happens in children traveling with their families abroad.
Using the example of a South African family with two children who traveled to the Maldives, Uriah Jansen, Head of Hollard Travel at Hollard Insure, describes a scenario in which a child returns a positive PCR test before the scheduled return flight. .
“One returns a positive test, which is the residue of a recent infection, even though the child has long since recovered. However, this running key means they are stuck in the Maldives, at their own expense, until “until the child comes back with a negative test. And they could be waiting a long time,” Jansen explained.
“This is not a bizarre or isolated scenario, it happens all the time. A number of our travel insurance customers have contacted us in a panic, stranded and desperate to get home. An idyllic family vacation can turn into a nightmare in the blink of an eye.”
But there is a way, authorized by the South African health department, to avoid this unpleasant surprise and to bring the children back into the country without needing to present a negative Covid-19 test.
This “little-known provision of the law”, as described by Jansen, requires that the traveler, child or adult, has recovered from Covid-19 and has the appropriate certification to prove it.
“A silver lining is that travelers who have tested positive for coronavirus and have served their period of self-isolation can obtain a Covid-19 recovery certificate from a medical professional and then apply to the Department for Health an exemption for South Africa’s entry, re-entry and quarantine rules,” Jansen said.
“This ‘fit to fly’ document can save you a lot of unwanted stress.”
the the Ministry of Health acknowledges that “persons who have recently contracted Covid-19 may continue to test positive for weeks on PCR after full recovery” and added a provision for such cases.
“If you are unable to produce a negative PCR test result because you have recently recovered from Covid-19 infection and wish to travel to South Africa, you must submit a request to the department for an exemption letter, the department noted in a travel update Jan. 31.
“This only applies to travelers who have fully recovered and intend to travel within 90 days of the initial PCR test result which confirmed infection.”
Travelers wishing to request this “fit to fly” document must have:
- A copy of their passport.
- The PCR test result that confirmed their initial infection.
- A letter from a doctor confirming that they are fully recovered, have no new symptoms and are fit to travel.
The application along with supporting documents should be sent to email@example.com.
“A doctor’s certificate of recovery must include details such as the child’s first and last name as it appears on their passport, the doctor’s date and signature, physical address and contact details,” it said. Jansen said.
“Make sure it’s a legitimate note and not hastily scribbled, to rule out any grounds for denying your exemption request.”
Travelers are urged to submit their applications “well in advance of the intended trip to allow sufficient time for processing”.