Omicron Mutation: Desperate travelers in South Africa – Looking for a way back


Blurred, frustrated, and at the same time relieved, Valerie Ledik leaves Johannesburg Airport with a valuable treasure in her pocket: a ticket to return to Belgium by air via Addis Ababa three days from today.

Travelers to South Africa, pressured to return home, are anxiously looking to find a way to circumvent the restrictions imposed after the new Omicron variant of the new coronavirus was identified.

The 30-year-old Belgian, together with her boyfriend Sander Ferstrelen, recounted the stressful 24 hours she lived in Johannesburg. “It’s as if we were criminals,” he told AFP. The initial flight of their return to Antwerp would make a stop in Zurich. But Switzerland has closed its borders to all foreigners arriving in the country from South Africa, even to those just passing through airports.

The new tickets cost the couple 2,000 euros in total.

At the airport cafeteria, many others frantically try to contact their country’s consular authorities or travel agencies. The “shipwrecked” exchange information and telephones. Some will transit through other African countries, such as Ethiopia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which have not yet imposed restrictions on flights from South Africa. However, they must first undergo a molecular test for Covid-19.

Many Europeans waited in line in the afternoon to book a flight to Addis Ababa. “At first we tried to change the date on the ticket, but it was not possible,” said Laura Herde, a Berlin-based student who was planning to go hiking with friends in South Africa when she learned that the border was closing. “We had to buy other tickets. “On the first flight we found,” he explained.

A team of German geologists waits patiently outside the test site for Covid-19. This is the second time they will be tested in two days. The diagnostic center, however, was not prepared to accommodate so many people, it did not have enough printing ink or data download media. “They can neither print the results for us, nor send them by email,” said Robert Gibbel, 36, now in despair. “Now we need a PCR test of the last 24 hours” while until a few days ago a vaccination certificate was enough for them to travel, he explained.

His colleagues, with mobile phones in hand, are constantly searching for information on the German government’s news websites to learn of any new developments. Will they need to be quarantined at a hotel or will they go home after returning? Some have read that on arrival they may be picked up at the airport runway and re-examined.

“It ‘s crazy. What we understand at the moment is that it depends on which city (Germany) you will land. But, at least, we will return home “, commented Ole Schroeder, 32 years old.

In another queue, a 26-year-old South African, Nika Krueger, has been trying since dawn, by any means, to return to her partner in Dubai. But all flights are full. “It’s the absolute mess,” the young woman said, holding back her tears. “Ethiopian Air, Kenya Air, Mauritius Air, I tried them all…”.

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