Omicron variant: Saffas fear losing jobs, being stranded after flights pulled

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  • Travel restrictions driven by fears over the Omicron variant have left South Africans stranded.
  • Many South Africans have been left without flights to their destinations.
  • Others fear they may not be able to return to their jobs after visiting the country.

As travel restrictions against South Africa spread faster than the Omicron variant, South Africans have found themselves stranded.

Scores of locals have written to News24, sharing their frustration and heartbreak at lost opportunities to spend time with loved ones abroad and even at potential loss of income.

Several countries and regions instituted travel restrictions and cancelled flights since the announcement of the new Omicron variant. South African scientists announced the new variant on Thursday, after it was traced during genome sequencing.

Travel restrictions had been imposed by the UK, US, EU, Canada, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Oman, UAE, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Mauritius, Seychelles, Brazil and Guatemala, among others.

The travel restrictions kicked in two days before Nathan Dennis was expected to fly home from Bermuda. Dennis relocated to the island in March for work, after a three-month delay caused by the second wave of infections and travel bans from the UK.

READ | New vaccine for Omicron may be ready in early 2022, says Moderna

After reaching his new island home, the year's stress took a toll on Dennis and he faced various health complications - something which only increased his "craving to see family".

He had booked a flight to see his mother - who he describes as his best friend - who had also experienced illness in South Africa.

Dennis said:

I can write thousands of words trying to describe the terrible events that have occurred in my life and my family's lives this past year. There was always, always one critical central thing keeping us all motivated to stay positive and that was we would all be together for Christmas. And that has been robbed from us.

"We need each other, we need to see each other!"

Cape Town resident Caitlyn Blignaut had also been left devastated, after her plans of a family reunion in Saudi Arabia were brought to a halt.

She was due to fly to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, for a long overdue visit with her mother.

"I haven't seen a single member of my family since before this pandemic started and this trip would have been our first international holiday as a couple. We were excited, packed and ready to go when less than 24 hours before our flight was due to leave, the Saudi government banned all travellers from South Africa in response to the UK and US knee-jerk reactions," she said.

Blignaut said she struggled to understand why fully vaccinated travellers with a negative PCR test shouldn't be allowed to travel.

"South Africa is really being punished for its level of testing and sequencing and the world's reaction is ruining some people's chances of a long overdue family reunion," she added.

The travel restrictions imposed by Middle Eastern nations had implications for South African teachers, who travelled home - some for the first time in two years - on Thursday and Friday at the end of the school term, one reader told News24.

Return flights to some countries had since been cancelled and, if flights did not open before the end of the 10-day holiday, many teachers could find themselves required to travel to another country and complete a two-week quarantine period, before they could enter the country they live and work in.

Those who could not afford the additional expense, may find themselves stuck in South Africa and unable to complete their work contracts.

READ | No need to panic about new Covid-19 strain, say experts

Anthea Hay said her job was now also at risk. She works for the UK's National Health Service (NHS) and had taken leave to travel to South Africa to meet her 15-month-old granddaughter.

"After working hard through the pandemic for the NHS and coming to South Africa with huge excitement to finally meet my granddaughter, I feel very let down. With no notice, we're told to get back to the UK, within the same timeframes as those restrictions put on easier European countries, but then they also cancel the flights," said Hay.

She said she couldn't afford to change or purchase new flights, and was unable to afford to quarantine in a hotel on her return.

"Do I lose my job now too? To cut my very longed for trip in half was one disappointment, but am I being denied the human right to earn a living? To get back to my home?" she said.

Meanwhile, the South African government cried foul over the international community's response to the announcement of the new variant. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said South Africa was being punished for identifying the Omicron variant and its advanced genomic sequencing.

"New variants have been detected in other countries. Each of those cases have had no recent links with southern Africa. It's worth noting that the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in southern Africa," said Dirco.

The WHO stressed the importance of waiting for more data on the Omicron variant, before implementing border restrictions.

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