A small red cross and this inscription: “canceled”. On the departure board at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Lynette desperately searches for a flight to Australia. She has just returned from a family vacation in South Africa. “I came to see my parents whom I had not seen for three years, she confides. They open the borders, I take this opportunity to come and say hello and now I can’t go home. It’s terrible! “
In the aftermath of the discovery of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, South Africa is increasingly isolated from the world. European Union, Russia, United States, Brazil or Morocco, the list of countries closing their border with South Africa is growing hour by hour. As a result, airline flights are canceled at the last minute and many passengers like Lynnette find themselves stranded.
A long queue forms in front of the Ethiopian Airline check-in counter. A Swedish professional golfer, present for the Johannesburg Open, queues. The competition turned into a fiasco after the abandonment of fifteen players preferring to join their country before the borders were closed. David, who carries the golfer’s gear, is in a hurry to get home: “It’s a little scary to be here when they’ve just discovered a new variant so I’m trying to get out of there as quickly as possible.”
Nina and her daughter Maria are also in the queue. These two Norwegians had to cut their vacation short after the surprise announcement of the flight suspension. “We were supposed to leave with British Airways but our flight was canceled when we were in the middle of the bush, with no internet connection … It was great!”, says Maria with a small laugh. It was their travel agency that managed to find inexpensive seats on this first flight to Ethiopia. “Ten minutes after the agency reserved a seat for us, the prices went from 450 to 1150 euros for a single trip, it’s crazy!”, wonders Nina.
“Right now it’s not the money, it’s how we get home.”Nina, Norwegian tourist
Fleeing a country in the midst of a health crisis can indeed be very expensive. These two German tourists leaving for Munich confess the price of their ticket with lip service: “3,800 euros, in total for the two of us. It’s a very expensive flight but at least we have one …” These two friends do not yet know what reception will be reserved for them on arrival in Germany. New tests and quarantine for several days, anticipates one of them. “Two more weeks difficult to hold”, they sum up with a smile. The South African government calls these border closures a punishment and has started negotiating with countries to reverse their decisions.