Covid-19 Catch-22 travel dictums

October 8, 2020

Exasperated!  That’s how I feel right now about the uncertainty of my planned trip returning to South Africa’s Kruger National Park next year.  Emerging Covid-19 test requirements for travel to all sorts of places are sowing doubt and confusion at a minimum for would-be travelers like me or are just downright impossible to achieve in some cases, giving the most stringent mandates a distinct Catch-22 quality.  Specific to me, new Covid-10 testing directives in South Africa threaten my trip scheduled in early May, 2021.

Tourism is vitally important to the South African economy, with one in every 22 working South Africans said to be employed in the industry, especially important with massive unemployment of as much as 42%.  Naturally the country wants to reopen its borders to international tourists asap. 

Even domestically the pent-up demand has been so great that over last weekend, a South African national holiday period, the Kruger National Park reached 100% occupancy consisting entirely of South Africans who just wanted to get away.  Pre-Covid, it was not unusual for the Kruger to be busy over local holidays, but 100% full was uncommon.

As one of those overseas tourists who want to visit the Kruger, I know that demand is high even way out in the future.  When I had to rebook my Kruger accommodations from February to May, my very clever and well-informed local agent based in South Africa was unable to find space for me on the exact dates and in the exact Kruger camps that I requested, requiring me to flex my Kruger Park schedule considerably.  And that was seeking Kruger accommodation eight months in advance!  That has never happened to me before in 30 years of travel to the Kruger.

With so much bottled-up demand, I thought the South African government would have developed a well-coordinated set of requirements to make it easy for international visitors to comply when the country reopened on October 1.  Instead, SA government departments muddled things entirely with two directives to all arriving passengers that are impossible to achieve:

  • Produce a negative Covid-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) certificate not more than 72 hours old; and
  • Show proof of travel insurance that covers cover the cost of Covid-19 tests and quarantine costs.

That news led me to investigate both requirements.

First, the worldwide insurance industry does not currently issue policies covering mandated government testing requirements and quarantine costs for a known event.  Perhaps they will, but my sources speculate the cost for such a policy would soar above the garden variety travel insurance currently costing $25-80.  For the moment, though, there is no insurance at any cost that meets the South African requirement, and so the order is a Catch-22.

With regard to the PCR Covid test, I found nearly 20 places in Raleigh that offer the test, many without a doctor’s referral, with prices ranging from nearly free using my private health insurance to as much as $200 when all fees are totaled.  It’s hard to figure out what all the costs are.

But cost wasn’t the kicker; it’s the time required to get results.  PCR tests are much more accurate than the many “quick” tests available because they use specialized lab equipment that takes time.  Every place I queried gave me the same inflexible answer to get back results: 2-3 days.

South Africa’s requirement to present a negative PCR Covid-19 test result not older than 72 hours makes it impossible to comply because the 3-day window will close due to the lag time between testing and receiving test results.  Even if PCR test results came in just two days, I can’t get to Johannesburg within 72 hours, which makes this requirement, too, a Catch-22.

My Kruger trip planned for May, 2021 is still seven month off, so maybe the South Africans will untangle the mess they’ve made.  Right now, though, one well-heeled South African I know has postponed all international trips because not even he can meet the fiats when he returns home. 

I’m not going to cancel my trip…yet.  Way too early.  I’ll wait and see just how they straighten out things.  Meantime, I am sure Joseph Heller is laughing heartily somewhere in the Great Beyond watching the creation of ever more Catch-22 situations that plague us (pun intended).

3 thoughts on “Covid-19 Catch-22 travel dictums

  1. I feel your pain! And I do thank you for this information, but with regret as just yesterday I booked my May/June 2021 flights on Delta to S. Africa. The Delta website only presented the information about the need for a Covid test result; I did not see a mention of that odd insurance requirement. Regarding tests, this is not unusual and more rapid testing is becoming available. Check this post by Wendy Perrin: https://www.wendyperrin.com/how-to-get-a-quick-covid-test-for-travel/
    Best,
    Leslie Willmott

  2. We encountered exactly the same testing/timing/travel issue with December to The Bahamas.

    We cancelled and rebooked to Cancun. There are only 7 countries that don’t currently require testing and quarantining for 14 days. The greater concern is trying to the US, with or without symptoms!

    Just sayin….a much safer bet, at the moment.

  3. Just to clarify on South Africa. Their requirement is a negative test within 72 hours of departure to JNB (not within 72 hours of landing). In Seattle we can get these results within 24 hours so hopefully Raleigh gets to that place. You are aware that currently South Africa although open will not accept visitors from “high risk”. countries of which the US is one so we can’t even go right now if we wanted to. Canadians can go but not Americans. Details in this link
    https://thepointsguy.com/guide/south-africa-is-reopening-for-tourists-but-will-u-s-travelers-be-allowed-to-visit/

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