South African students express concern over travel restrictions halting their ability to return from home

More than 50 nations have imposed travel restrictions because of the omicron variant.

USC senior Ntsang McCormick, who lived in Lesotho and Kenya before coming to USC, is now unable to travel to and from South Africa to visit her family for Christmas due to recent travel restrictions placed on southern African countries.

A United States travel ban on South Africa and seven other southern African countries was put into full effect on Monday by President Joe Biden in response to a new coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa, as was reported last week.

Information about the new variant, named omicron, is still being collected, but more than 50 nations in Europe, northern Africa, North America, and Asia have joined the U.S. in issuing travel restrictions. The restrictions have certain allowances, but not student visas.

“My entire family is vaccinated, thankfully, but, you know, we still can’t even go home for Christmas now because of the ban,” said McCormick. “But then there are people who are going back to the UK or countries in Europe and have no issues with it, even though [those countries] also have cases. So, it’s just like straight-up discrimination honestly.”

Students from affected countries have expressed their concern regarding the bans, which may force them to change plans for the upcoming holiday season. For Robyn Sue Davies, a friend of McCormick’s and another South African student studying abroad, the “real fear” is going home and getting stuck there.

“I can understand that for some people being stuck abroad would mean losing their jobs,” Davies said. “It would also mean having to pay rent or losing your ‘home,’ despite not being able to come home.”

The president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, reacted in opposition to the travel bans and is calling for the immediate reversal of the restrictions. He called the travel ban decisions “deeply disappointing” and “not informed by science.”

Although cases of the omicron variant have been reported in Portugal, Spain, the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic, travel bans haven’t been placed on any European countries yet.

World Health Organization’s Africa director Matishidiso Moeti, said in a statement that “with the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity.”

Davies also expressed concern about the cost of quarantine, which can be expensive. Yet the bans could also prove expensive for the affected governments.

With South Africa and other southern African countries heavily relying on the southern hemisphere summer to provide a surge in tourism to help recuperate for the economic damages previously inflicted by COVID-19, the travel bans are dealing another round of major economic blows to already struggling economies.

Basetsana Sehara, a teacher at a junior school in Maun, Botswana, explained in a phone interview how the loss of tourism could be detrimental to southern Africa’s well-being.

“We were expecting a lot of travelers from the U.K. and U.S., but I don’t think that’s going to be happening, so it’s going to drain the tourism industry during the festive season. All the bookings are probably going to be canceled from flights to safaris, to the hotels and the activities. So it’s going to be really bad if anything like that happens; if the travel ban continues through the entire December.”

Sehara also detailed from her personal experiences in Botswana that when “people really think or feel that they’re left without a choice, the situation will get really bad. If more strains keep coming, it’ll affect areas from productivity of the country to crime rate increase, mortality rates and everything.

“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” South African president Ramaphosa in an address to the nation.