South Africa opens all international travel as unemployment hits record 30.8%

With South Africa battling record unemployment of 30.8% in the third quarter, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that travel to all countries will resume in an effort to boost the struggling tourism, aviation and hospitality sectors.

Africa’s most advanced economy has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa, and fifth globally, with more than 740,000 positive cases and over 20,000 deaths recorded. Infections have also been on the rise since it eased lockdown restrictions in September to their lowest levels.

In a televised national address, Ramaphosa said normal trading hours of alcohol would be restored too, after sales were restricted on weekends in an effort to reduce pressure on hospitals due to alcohol-related accidents.

“We are also opening up international travel to all countries subject to the necessary health protocols and the presentation of a negative COVID-19 certificate,” he said.

 “By using rapid tests and strict monitoring we intend to limit the spread of the infection through importation,” he added. “We expect that these measures will greatly assist businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors.”

The president did not give further details, or a specific date for the reopening

Meanwhile, the statistics agency said that South Africa’s unemployment rate struck a record high of 30.8% in the third quarter. The figure was the highest since the survey began in 2008.

“Indeed the 30.8% is the highest we have recorded,” Statistician General Risenga Maluleke told a news conference.

“What has actually lifted the unemployment rate? … It’s largely the number of people who were seated (without work), and had reasons relating to COVID in the main, who came out and started to actively look for employment,” Maluleke said.

Statistics South Africa put the number of unemployed at 6.5 million people in the third quarter, compared to 4.3 million in the previous three months.

The number of employed rose by 0.5 million but that was outweighed by a 2.8 million rise in the size of the labor force.

Unemployment was at 43.1% in the third quarter according to an expanded definition that includes discouraged work-seekers.

South Africa opened its borders to some international travelers at the beginning of October after a six-month ban, but restricted entry from high-risk countries, with the latest list including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Brazil and India.

The country depends heavily on tourism, which prior to the pandemic contributed nearly 9% of its gross domestic product and employed over 4% of the workforce.

South Africa has long suffered record high levels of unemployment with millions trapped in poverty. As a result, it is the most unequal country in Africa more than two decades after the end of apartheid in 1994.

Its economy was in recession before it recorded its first coronavirus infection in March with one of the world’s strictest lockdowns and a global drop in demand for its exports causing an economic contraction of more than 17% in annual terms in April-June.

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