Tourists rush to South Africa airport after travel bans

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Anxious-looking travellers thronged Johannesburg international airport and stood in long queues on Friday, desperate to squeeze onto the last flights to countries that had just shut their doors to South Africa.

Many cut short their holidays, rushing back from safaris when Britain announced late on Thursday night that all flights from South Africa and its neighbours would be banned the following day.

A flurry of nations – including the United States (US), Canada and several European countries – have followed suit, concerned about the discovery of a new coronavirus variant, renamed Omicron, with a large number of mutations fuelling an infection resurgence in South Africa.

UK citizen Toby Reid, a 24-year-old trader in London, was camping on Cape Town’s Table Mountain with his girlfriend when the ban was announced.

“At 5.30am we got up to see if we could catch the sunrise, and at six in the morning we found out that there was still a possibility to get back,” he told AFP, standing in line for check-in at the Johannesburg airport just hours later.

The couple managed to grab the two last seats on an evening flight to Frankfurt. Others who were not so lucky discussed options at ticket counters, eyes widening at proposed prices and convoluted itineraries.

“There should have been more notice,” muttered Christian Good, 50, returning to Devon via Frankfurt with his husband after a beach holiday.

By chance, the pair had originally planned to return on that flight, meaning they would arrive home before mandatory hotel quarantine begins today – a requirement for citizens returning from “red list” countries.

“It’s ridiculous, we will always be having new variants,” his husband David exclaimed.

People queue to get on flights to Paris at OR Tambo’s airport in Johannesburg. PHOTO: AP