CAPE TOWN - The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said South Africans were stranded in several capital cities around the world, and urged them to contact their nearest embassy, as teams were working around the clock to ensure consular services.
This, as countries decided to impose travel bans on South Africa and several other African countries, after local scientists alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) to a new Covid-19 variant on Thursday.
In Cape Town, City officials said they, the province, and Cape Town Tourism (CTT) had to step in and assist 300 passengers who were stranded, by arranging alternative emergency accommodations.
The officials are expected to meet with consul generals in the week, who are awaiting further communication from their embassies and governments.
Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela said South Africans were quarantined in Mauritius at the expense of that government, after they landed there on Monday – amid an immediate suspension of all flights from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho.
Monyela said the decision was made while the plane was airborne, leaving families back home concerned.
“A plane took off from South Africa to Mauritius and, when it was airborne, a decision was taken by authorities in Mauritius to impose mandatory quarantine for South Africans. This was taken hours after the take-off, seemingly taking a cue from European countries.
“The update, with regards to the plight of South Africans in Mauritius, is that all of them have been processed. Tourist groups have been sent to receptive hotels to quarantine, and the cost will be covered by the government of Mauritius,” he said.
The Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority announced that the suspension will be in effect until December 31. Moyela advised holidaymakers, who were planning to visit that country, to make alternative plans.
For 29-year-old Saliya Adams from Port Elizabeth, the travel bans meant another year without seeing her family.
She has been working in the hospitality industry in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for five years, and last visited home two years ago.
“I feel hurt and disappointed because now it is extra time I’ll be away from my family. Everyone should get vaccinated and the South African government should be more strict with residents now,” said Adams.
Not only did the ban affect those wanting to enter the country, but also South Africans based abroad – who had come home and needed to return to their country of immigration.
Mother of one, Zainab Gamiet originally from Ottery and now residing in Vancouver, Canada, arrived in the country two weeks ago. Gamiet said she was completely overjoyed, as she hadn’t seen her family since she relocated in 2019. Now she is uncertain of how long she can stay, to avoid being stuck in the country.
“I was always planning to stay until February and my husband till December 13, because he has to be back at work. Now I am concerned about staying because there is no certainty around when these bans will be lifted.
“It was very stressful when this happened, it’s like everything changed overnight. My husband’s flight with Turkish Airlines was cancelled because they had banned flights. We then had to spend more money and book another flight through KLM. He also has to leave sooner and quarantine when he gets back to Canada.
“I really want to stay but I also don’t want to be stuck with my toddler alone, I don’t know how things will be with travelling,” she said.
Another Capetonian, Brenda Kadalie said her son had come down for her 60th birthday and now had to rush back to Switzerland before the ban.
“Celebrations without my son – not a nice 60th,” she said.
Mayoral committee member for economic opportunities and asset management James Vos, meanwhile, said – through a survey conducted – they were able to see cancellations of flights and hotels.
“Most concerning is lots of additional cancellations for January to March. These are the bookings that give some businesses confidence about future operations. We have 37 cruise lines that are supposed to dock at Cape Town.
“That’s a huge economic spin off from maintenance, goods and services and spending power. Now we are uncertain what the future holds for the cruise liners and the same for our international flights going forward,” said Vos.
“We have spent a lot of effort, time and energy in learning lessons from the past year and rebuilding our tourism industry. I hope sanity will prevail and the countries that placed South Africa on the ’Red List’ will see their closure as premature,” he said.
The Dirco’s 24-hour operational centre can be reached on 012 351 1000.