The first repatriation charter flights for UK and US nationals stranded in South Africa by the coronavirus lockdown will start today, Thursday 9 April. Meanwhile, the seventh and eighth German-sponsored repatriation charters flown by SAA, taking Germans and other Europeans home, were to leave Johannesburg and Cape Town last night.
The US embassy announced that on Thursday, charter flights would depart from Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, with another flight from Cape Town on Friday.
The UK High Commission announced that the first flight to London would depart from Cape Town on Thursday with six more flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to follow.
The German embassy said after Wednesday night’s flights, the German charters would have repatriated over 2,000 Germans and other Europeans. The next flight would be from Cape Town on Saturday and the embassy is planning several more.
Stranded South Africans are also coming home on charter and scheduled flights, though in much smaller numbers. A few hundred of the more than 2,300 South Africans abroad who have registered with the government, have already returned from Dubai, Doha, Sao Paulo and Germany. One of the German SAA flights leaving for Germany last night was due to bring more South Africans home.
Darren Bergman, the DA MP who has been coordinating the efforts to bring stranded South Africans from many different countries said:
“The problem with the current approach is that people in pockets such as ten in Argentina and ten in Chile will most likely end up falling short of a current solution and we will need to push for a fallback option.
“This concerns us. We would have liked the opportunity to assist Dirco in maybe trying to find donors to get this handful of passengers to the flight in time with more notice.”
Meanwhile, the British Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, said: “We have been working hard to support British people in South Africa and around the world to return to the UK, prioritising the most vulnerable.
“Starting on Thursday, these charter flights will see hundreds of British people return home and I would like to express my thanks to the South African government for their help throughout this process.”
And the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Nigel Casey, said: “This has been a worrying time for many British travellers in South Africa. This is why the UK has been working round the clock to support British travellers who wish to return to the UK. I am delighted to announce today the first of seven charter flights from South Africa and know this will be welcome news for those wishing to get back home.
“My team and I here in South Africa will continue to support British travellers to get back home on these charter flights, focusing in particular on those in greatest need.”
The US embassy warns on its website that its repatriation flights would not be free “and are, in fact, frequently more expensive than currently available commercial travel”.
It adds that the current round of repatriation flights being planned might be the last.
“If you wish to repatriate to the United States, please travel now or be prepared to wait until commercial flights resume in the future. We are not able to say when commercial flights will resume or if the South African lockdown will be extended.”
The Brazilian embassy in Pretoria organised a repatriation flight for more than 200 Brazilians stranded in South Africa on Monday evening and the same SAA charter flight brought home stranded South Africans on Tuesday.
Canada is also believed to have arranged an SAA charter flight for stranded Canadians which will fly to London, leaving the passengers to find their own way home from there. DM
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