The coronavirus and South Africa: Travel bans and more in effect

On Sunday, 15 March, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that a national state of disaster has been declared in South Africa in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

While we are still waiting on clarification from the Department of Home Affairs on some matters, the information below is correct at the time of writing. We will update this article as information is released, but please follow us on Facebook or LinkedIn for updates as it happens.

Travel ban and cancelled visas for visitors from high-risk countries

The government has imposed a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries as from 18 March. This means that any foreigner from a high-risk country will be refused entry into South Africa should they proceed to a port of entry. Further, no visa applications will be processed and approved for foreigners from high-risk countries.

President Ramaphosa also added that visas for visitors from high-risk countries have now been cancelled and previously granted visas are now revoked.

The high-risk countries are:

  • Italy
  • Iran
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Germany
  • United States
  • The United Kingdom
  • France
  • Switzerland
  • China

All travellers who have entered South Africa from high-risk countries since mid-February are asked to present themselves for testing. It is not clear yet how this will be enforced.

Government will add to the list of high-risk countries as the situation evolves, based on the risk level. In addition to countries, specific cities and regions might also be added as necessary.

Visa applications and screenings for travellers from medium-risk countries

Foreign travellers from medium-risk countries, such as Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore, will not receive visas at the port of entry. This has been withdrawn. Instead, those who wish to travel to South Africa must apply for a visa at the relevant South African mission before travelling. These visitors must also present a medical report to prove that they tested negative for the coronavirus.

Additionally, all foreign travellers from medium-risk countries will be required to undergo high-intensity screening on entering South Africa. Surveillance, screening and testing measures will be increased at OR Tambo, Cape Town, and King Shaka International Airports.

Visitors from other countries

Foreign visitors who are not from high-risk countries but who have travelled through high-risk countries in the 20 days prior to 15 March will not be allowed into South Africa and will not be granted a visa.

Foreign nationals already in South Africa

A directive issued by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) states that foreign nationals who are already in South Africa, and who originates from a country affected by the coronavirus or who has to travel through an affected country to reach their home country, is allowed to renew their temporary visas within South Africa. This includes visitor’s visas.

However, to renew a visa, applicants must be able to meet the requirements as set out by the Immigration Act. If the applicant is unable to do so, he or she must first apply for a waiver.

The DHA has indicated that such renewals may be extended until 31 July 2020.

South African citizens

South Africans returning from high-risk countries will be subjected to testing and self-isolation or quarantine on return to South Africa.

President Ramaphosa has also advised citizens to refrain from all forms of travel to or through the European Union, United States, United Kingdom and other high-risk countries such as China, Iran and South Korea.

What about South African permanent residents?

There has been no clear communication from Government or the Department of Home Affairs how permanent residents are to be treated. We will update our clients as soon as there is clarification on the matter. We’ll also update this article at the same time and share the information on our social channels.

Other measures introduced by President Ramaphosa

Apart from the measures above, President Ramaphosa also announced several other measures being taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic:

  • All non-essential travel for all spheres of government outside of South Africa is prohibited.
  • Non-essential domestic travel, particularly by air, rail, taxis and bus, is discouraged.
  • Gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited.
  • Mass celebrations of upcoming national days such as Human Rights Day and other large government events will be cancelled.
  • Where small gatherings are unavoidable, organisers will have to put in place stringent measures of prevention and control.
  • Schools are closed from 18 March and will remain closed until after the Easter weekend.
  • Visits to all correctional centres are suspended for 30 days with immediate effect (as of Sunday, 15 March).

To further bolster South Africa’s health response, government is also doing the following:

  • Strengthening its surveillance and testing systems.
  • Identifying isolation and quarantine sites in each district and metro.
  • Increasing capacity at designated hospitals in all provinces.
  • Working closely with all colleges, universities, and other public facilities such as Parliament, prisons, police stations and military installations to intensify hygiene control.
  • Increasing the capacity of existing contact tracing processes.
  • Partnering with the private sector to set up a national tracking, tracing and monitoring system of all people infected with the coronavirus and those they have been in contact with.
  • Undertaking a mass communication campaign on good hygiene and effective prevention behavior.

The road ahead

The coronavirus has just about slowed down economic activity in all affected countries worldwide. It is going to be no different in South Africa.

President Ramaphosa and his cabinet acknowledge this threat and is thus in the process of finalising a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate the expected impact of the coronavirus on our economy. This package, which will consist of various fiscal and other measures, will be concluded following consultation with business, labour and other relevant institutions.

President Ramaphosa also announced that a National Command Council, chaired by himself, will meet three times a week to co-ordinate all aspects of South Africa’s emergency response. This Council will include, amongst others, members of the Inter-Ministerial Committee.

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It is likely that much will still change in the coming weeks in South Africa due to the coronavirus pandemic. We will continue share news and updates as it happens. If you’d like to stay in the know, we suggest signing up for our newsletter.

Please also feel free to contact us on +27 (0) 21 424 2460 for any visa renewals or general immigration enquiries. Alternatively, please email us at


Read President Ramaphosa’s full speech here.