Covid-19 new variant: Scores of Britons flood OR Tambo in desperate rush to get home

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  • Frustrated British citizens flocked to OR Tambo Airport on Friday attempting to return home.
  • They expressed frustrations after their country put South Africa on its Covid-19 red list.
  • Some travellers were seen taking Covid-19 tests at the airport. 

As scores of frustrated British citizens were desperate to depart South Africa amid news that the UK temporarily banned flights from the country, OR Tambo International Airport was abuzz with activity.

Pushing and pulling trolleys carrying their luggage, they went up and down, looking for the earliest flight to vacate South Africa.

The panic was caused by the sudden declaration by Britain to temporarily ban flights from six African countries, including South Africa, following news of a newly discovered Covid-19 variant identified as B.1.1.529.

Travellers would be required to quarantine upon arrival from South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

The six countries have been placed on Britain’s red list.

READ | Covid-19: New variant puts SA at risk of global shut-out

The variant has been detected in South Africa. In the past 24-hour reporting cycle, South Africa recorded 2 465 new Covid-19 cases.  

Security guards who spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity at the airport said British citizens were desperate to leave.

“Since earlier this morning, they have been asking if they could earlier get a flight back home. Some even shed tears. You could see in their eyes that they are desperate,” said one of the guards.

An employee at the airport explained to a group of British citizens why their flights were cancelled and asked them to remain calm.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm. Officials will come later to address you. What we have been told is that only British citizens would be allowed to leave South Africa,” the man said.

Some queued at vaccination tents ready for Covid-19 tests.

READ | New Covid-19 variant: Still too early to decide on 'line of action', says Phaahla

Mark Moffett, who holds South African and Britain citizenship said he received an email from British Airways on Friday morning that his flight had been cancelled.

“I saw reports on BBC that Britain has closed its borders for South Africa and five other African countries. Britain is trying to get quarantine hotels for all its citizens returning from the six (identified) countries.  

“This means we will have to quarantine for 10 days in the United Kingdom for £170 per night. I flew from Cape Town yesterday (Thursday) to OR Tambo,” Moffett.

Moffet had initially planned to go home via Kenya.

READ | Covid-19 SA questions UK flight ban amid global alarm over new variant

However, he missed his flight to Nairobi because he had to do a Covid-19 test.

Kerah Browne is another dual citizen living between East London and Britain. She said she was upset at the turn of events.

"I would have been informed a week ago, but no one knew about it. We will only find out later today if British citizens can go home.

"I don’t know if we are required to have Covid-19 tests before entering Britain. If they need us to do tests, I will do so. If we have to pay for our tests, I will do so. I expect them to have a helping hand in this situation. I am lucky that I have family here in South Africa.

"If I was all alone without cash and no one willing to help me, I was going to be stuck here," said Browne.

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