The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has urged Irish citizens caught up in the seven southern African countries affected by the latest Covid-19 travel restrictions to continue trying to find a way back to Ireland via “commercial means” and to maintain contact with their airline or travel agent.
A DFA spokeswoman said on Sunday the Government was aware of the “limited availability and continued disruption to flights from the region” and Irish officials were liaising with people in South Africa and other affected countries through the Irish Embassy in Pretoria.
The spokeswoman did not say whether the Government was planning a repatriation flight for Irish citizens in South Africa as it did last year for people caught in Peru, Nigeria and India when the pandemic first hit.
“The situation is evolving quickly and additional measures affecting flights may be introduced at short notice,” she said.
Paul Donnelly from Dublin was due to travel home from Cape Town on Friday night after spending a week in South Africa for work. He received a text from Air France while he was en route to the airport saying his flight to Paris had been cancelled. He then discovered the next available flight to Paris was one week away. He eventually found a flight via Amsterdam and booked “pretty much the last seat out of Cape Town on KLM”.
Despite the international chaos unfolding around borders closing and flight cancellations, the atmosphere in the airport in Cape Town on Saturday was calm and orderly, he said. Mr Donnelly, who arrived home on Sunday afternoon, will now quarantine in his family home for the next 10 days. Having watched South African news reports over the weekend, he said there was a sense of frustration that the country was being blamed for this latest variant.
“South Africans would probably see themselves as at the forefront of medical scientific research and for their genomic surveillance. They kind of felt like they were being punished for catching this and giving full disclosure.”
The UK’s decision to immediately close its borders to South African travel was also a real slap in the face, he added. “The UK is their largest inbound tourist partner for people trying to get some winter sun. If it all shuts down, the economy will have a horrific time.”
Prof Tulio de Oliveira, who announced the news of the Omicron variant last week, took to Twitter urging the international community not to “discriminate or isolate” South Africa for being the country which sounded the alarm. “We have been very transparent with scientific information, he tweeted. “We identified, made data public, and raised the alarm as the infections are just increasing. We did this to protect our country and the world in spite of potentially suffering massive discrimination.”
The world’s billionaires must now join together to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable can access the vaccine in order to combat Covid and “extinguish the variants”, he added in a Twitter thread.
Spokesman for Cricket Ireland Craig Easdown told The Irish Times the International Cricket Council had chartered flights to help teams, including the Ireland women’s team, who were stranded due to the latest travel restrictions.
“The [Irish] squad is in Namibia with onward travel plans being worked out currently,” said Mr Easdown. “It’s been a very fluid situation but we’re hopeful they should be home within the next 48 hours.”
The Munster rugby team confirmed on Sunday that a member of their squad had tested positive for Covid-19 in South Africa.
The province were preparing to depart Cape Town for Dublin on a chartered flight on Sunday, along with the other United Rugby Championship (URC) sides leaving South Africa.
However, they will now not travel, after a round of PCR testing returned one positive result.
“In taking all precautions and prioritising the health and wellbeing of everyone, Munster Rugby will not travel today and will return to their hotel for an isolation period as a matter of priority,” said a Munster statement. “The province will await further guidance from the health authorities.”
A URC spokesman said the situation on Sunday evening around travel for the team remained “fluid”.