South Africa

Travellers in Limbo

South Africa ‘pulls the plug’ on Qatar flights

South Africa ‘pulls the plug’ on Qatar flights
The South African government has denied that it has cancelled any arrangements with Qatar Airways to repatriate stranded South Africans, or that there is a lack of quarantine accommodation. (Photo: Matthew Ashton - AMA / Getty Images)

Cancellations of flights by Qatar Airways have left hundreds of South Africans still stranded overseas.

Qatar Airways has allegedly cancelled five flights carrying stranded South Africans from Doha to Johannesburg over the next 10 days because the South African government failed to give it clearance to land.

Beverley Schäfer, deputy speaker of the Western Cape provincial parliament and representative of the Home Away From Home (HAFH) campaign, said Pretoria had “pulled the plug” on the Qatar Airways flights, because it did not have quarantine accommodation available for the returning South Africans. The cancellations left hundreds of South Africans still stranded overseas. 

The HAFH campaign has been lobbying Pretoria to bring home more than 4,000 South Africans who were originally stranded abroad by the coronavirus international travel restrictions.  About 3,400 of them have been repatriated so far.

But the South African government has denied that it has cancelled any arrangements with Qatar Airways or that there is a lack of quarantine accommodation. It said the flights would go ahead once the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) had given the go-ahead. 

Schäfer noted that the first sign of trouble was when the departure of  Flight QR 1363 that was scheduled to leave Doha on Tuesday for Johannesburg was delayed by some 26 hours. It was eventually rescheduled to leave at about 1.30am on Thursday. 

And then a further five flights from Doha to Johannesburg scheduled by Qatar Airways over the next 10 days had been cancelled, “leaving hundreds of South Africans stranded again across the world,” she said. 

“The South African government has put on hold all Qatar’s upcoming flights and as we speak passengers are now stuck in transit at Heathrow Airport. They have nowhere to go as many flew in to take this repatriation flight offer by Qatar airlines.”

She added that the first of six flights was left stranded on the Doha runway on Tuesday with a large number of South Africans aboard, as “SA pulled the plug on allowing the flight to land, stating that quarantine facilities were the issue”.

Some of the passengers on the delayed flight themselves also said, on Home Away From Home’s Facebook page, that they had been told that the reason for the delay was that the South African government had not cleared the flight to land at OR Tambo International Airport because there was no quarantine accommodation for the passengers. 

Earlier this week, passengers off a repatriation flight from Washington were left stranded at OR Tambo for about six hours allegedly because of an official mix-up over quarantine accommodation. 

However, Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille vehemently denied that a lack of quarantine accommodation could have caused the delay in the departure of Flight QR 1363 or the cancellation of any other Qatar Airways flights.

“Whoever told you that is lying,” she told Daily Maverick. De Lille said her department was responsible for providing quarantine accommodation and that there was plenty available. 

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco)  insisted on Wednesday that the government had not cancelled the flights and that his department was continuing discussions with Qatar Airways to repatriate South Africans “in line with the rules and regulations stipulated by government”.

Monyela added that his department had submitted a request to the NCCC for the repatriations from Doha.  

“When the process has been finalised and all the arrangements have been made, Dirco will continue with the repatriation of South Africans.”

He said that close to 3,400 of the 3,637 stranded South Africans who had initially told South Africa’s embassies abroad that they wanted to be repatriated, had been brought home. DM


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