Saturday, November 27, 2021

Families stuck after decision to ban flights to and from South Africa

Johannesburg: Hundreds of foreigners on family or business trips in South Africa desperately tried to get back home on the last available flights as several nations imposed restrictions on travellers due to the discovery of the new Omnicron variant of COVID-19 in this country.

The UK announced on Thursday that all flights to and from South Africa and five neighbouring countries would be banned from Friday noon following an announcement that the new Omnicron variant of COVID-19 had been detected in South Africa.

Many other countries followed suit, most of them indicating that only their own citizens would be allowed back, subject to a quarantine period.

In New Delhi, the central government asked all states and union territories to conduct rigorous screening and testing of all international travellers coming from or transiting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana, where a new variant has been detected.

According to the government's decision on Friday, airlines will be allowed to operate 50 per cent of their pre-COVID scheduled passenger flights between India and South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana from December 15.

India does not have an air bubble arrangement -- which allows special passenger flights between two countries amid COVID-related restrictions -- with South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana. Also, these three countries are classified under the "at-risk" category by India's ministry of health.

Tourists from Britain, one of the largest in South Africa's tourism and family visit sectors, were particularly hard hit.

I need to get home to be with my family for Christmas, and now it looks like I might be stuck here with my friends, said a tearful Joanne Johnson as airline employees explained the cancellation of flights, adding that arrangements were being made to repatriate British nationals only.

South African pensioners Johan Vermeulen and his wife Annemarie had been looking forward all year to join their son Andre, who had settled in the UK in 1999, and his family.

We haven't seen our grandchildren for more than two years now and thought that the pandemic was now easing enough to go there, Annemarie said.

Jarred Sampson said even if he did manage to get onto a flight, he would be faced with the unbudgeted expense of going into quarantine for 10 days on arrival in the UK.

27/11/21 Press Trust of India/Business Standard

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