South Africans must stop travelling unnecessarily, Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula warned on Friday.
"This moving from Soweto to see your friend in Hillbrow must stop. Stay where you are and socialise in your environment. We must restrict movement," he said at a briefing on progress with the implementation of coronavirus (Covid-19) regulations in the civil aviation sector.
He said South African airports have not yet been closed, as that would be a decision for President Cyril Ramaphosa to take. Ramaphosa recently issued an immediate travel ban on people from high-risk countries.
Mbalula did warn, though, that nothing would stop the president from stepping up the coronavirus-related regulations to include a total ban on airlines originating from high-risk countries.
He said some of the international flights that landed in SA on Friday had already been airborne by the time the regulations came into effect.
He emphasised that, in terms of the South African Constitution, no citizens of the country could be turned away when they arrive from abroad. However, starting from Friday, they have been placed in quarantine after having been allowed to disembark. Air China, for example, had 80 South Africans on board.
"Our operation is in full force. The ban does not say airlines cannot come to South Africa. It is restricting citizens from those countries," said Mbalula.
He said on Thursday night he was threatened with legal action by one of the international airlines, claiming that the treatment it received was not in line with the regulations.
Mbalula said the current regulations may have to be upgraded to ensure a total travel ban which would also ban airlines departing from high-risk countries of origin.
'Nobody planned this'
"Currently our ban does not say airlines cannot come to SA. They are allowed to come, but we are restricting citizens from those countries. Even an American coming to SA from Dubai will not be allowed to come in. We only allow South Africans in currently," he said.
"It is about the preservation of our country's interest, not about nationalities. Nobody planned this journey. The regulations want to stop unnecessary movement."
He admitted that it impacts airlines' revenue as well as the country and its people in general. Furthermore, he indicated that announcements could be expected early next week on how coronavirus challenges will be dealt with in the land transportation sector, including regarding daily commutes.
"We have to move fast. The virus is not stopping, it is increasing. The (aviation) regulations are in full force and if in the next two days they have to be upgraded to another level, we will let you know," he said.