Irish citizens visiting south African region urged to leave as soon as possible

Foreign Affairs says commercial flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries ‘remain open but busy’

'Commercial routes out of South Africa and the region remain open, but busy,' said the Department of Foreign Affairs, adding that it has received many calls about entry rules for people intending to fly back to Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

'Commercial routes out of South Africa and the region remain open, but busy,' said the Department of Foreign Affairs, adding that it has received many calls about entry rules for people intending to fly back to Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Department of Foreign Affairs said commercial flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries “remain open, but busy” as Irish citizens visiting the region are urged to leave as soon as possible.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly advised people not to travel to South Africa or six neighbouring countries – Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Namibia – or to leave if they are already there.

People returning to Ireland must quarantine at home for 10 days regardless of whether they have been vaccinated, have recovered from Covid, or have a negative PCR test. Equally, two PCR tests must be taken during quarantine.

EU states resolved on Friday to suspend travel from southern Africa after news of the discovery of the variant B.1.1.529 variant emerging, panicking capitals.

However, scheduled flights are still operating to the region, including Middle East transit airports with connecting Irish flights. Flights leaving transit airport such as Dubai are not covered by the EU ban.

“Commercial routes out of South Africa and the region remain open, but busy,” said the Department of Foreign Affairs, adding that it has received many calls about entry rules for people intending to fly back to Ireland.

An estimated 35,000 Irish citizens live in South Africa, though most are dual nationals and are long-term residents of the country. The number of Irish citizens in the other southern Africa countries are much less. *

Ireland has no direct flights to South Africa or any of the other countries subject to the new Government restrictions, while there are few Irish tourists there currently, travel industry leaders say.

Busiest period

Some 30,000 Irish residents visited South Africa in 2019 ahead of the arrival of the pandemic, with November to January being the busiest period, though travel numbers collapsed in the first lockdown.

“Irish people travelling to or from South Africa at present are mainly business travellers or visiting friends and family. The number of holiday-makers is minuscule,” said Pat Dawson, chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association.

“We have had no sort of communications from anyone that’s stuck down there or had an issue,” he added, ““People are slow to go on longer journeys when there’s a threat like Covid.”

People whose agency-booked holidays were cancelled because of new restrictions are entitled to a refund credit note, which is backed by a Government guarantee.

Asked whether people with cancelled booking would be entitled to get their money back, rather than a deferred holiday, or vouchers, he said: “You are entitled to your cash back, you are indeed.”

Meanwhile, the same seven southern African countries have been placed on Northern Ireland’s international travel red list from Friday in an attempt to limit the spread of the new variant of Covid-19.

The North’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, said the restrictions were “precautionary”, while authorities seek “further evidence on the spread of this variant and understand more about it” .

“The need for further measures will be kept under constant review, and we will continue to liaise closely with public health colleagues in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland,” he said.

Flight bans

Irish visitors in South Africa at present include the Munster rugby team, who were training in Pretoria on a two-week tour before their scheduled matches were postponed because of flight bans. The squad includes 34 players and 14 staff. “We are in the process of getting the group back to Ireland,” said the team’s spokeswoman.

The Irish women’s cricket team are in Zimbabwe for a tournament but it had no plans to leave Harare as of Friday night after the International Cricket Council said a match against Sir Lanka next Monday should go ahead. The squad includes 16 players and five coaches.

“The intention is the tournament will continue as planned. We still intend to fulfil the fixture on Monday, pending no deterioration in the situation,” said a spokesman.

“They’re scheduled to fly back on December 6th, but obviously that will change if the circumstances require that. Our priority is the health and safety of the players and coaches. If that requires us to leave early we will leave early.”

* This article was amended on November 27th, 2021.

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