British tourists scramble to get home from South Africa before quarantine rules come into force

International passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport‘s Terminal 5 – Leon Neal/Getty Images

Hundreds of British tourists face a scramble to get back home from South Africa before hotel quarantine becomes mandatory.

Holiday-makers were left desperately trying to book indirect flights from the country and five surrounding African nations to arrive back before the rules come into force at 4am on Sunday.

The travel restrictions have been imposed because of alarm over a new Covid variant discovered in South Africa this week that scientists fear could be more contagious and vaccine resistant than previous strains.

On Thursday, the Government announced that direct flights would be suspended from South Africa as well as Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini (the former Swaziland), Zimbabwe and Namibia. The mothballed hotel quarantine system is being reestablished, and – from 4am on Sunday – people who have been in those countries in the last 10 days will have to pay over £2,000 per adult to isolate in a government-sanctioned facility for 10 days.

However, ministers have ruled that travellers who arrive back in the UK from those countries before Sunday can self-isolate at home instead of a hotel.

One couple told The Telegraph that they were resigned to losing “half their savings” to quarantine costs after being caught out by the ban.

‘We are desperate to get home’

Jessica Dickson, 33, who is staying at a hotel in Johannesburg with her husband Michael, 38, and 16-month-old daughter Amelia Rose, said other British guests had managed to book flights home with three connections to dodge hotel quarantine.

But the couple from Surrey, whose Friday flight home was cancelled in the wake of the ban, were struggling to get back. The pair, who have lived in the UK for the last 10 years, had flown out last week for their first trip to their native South Africa since the pandemic so their daughter could meet her family for the first time.

Mrs Dickson said: “We are desperate to get home as, from our perspective, we are like ‘fine, we are going to have to do hotel quarantine’. It is going to take half of our savings to do it, including the £5,000 flight, which is not a small chunk of change. But the sooner we can get there, the sooner we can do our time and the sooner we can get out.”

Elsewhere, two Welsh rugby teams, the Cardiff and Scarlets clubs, were left stranded in South Africa after flying out for a tour. On Friday, the clubs assured worried families that they were “making every effort” to get the players back home.

Meanwhile, travel experts warned passengers could still get around the hotel quarantine rules by extending their holidays in non-red list countries beyond the 10-day period they need to declare they were in South Africa.

Paul Charles, the chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency and former Virgin Atlantic executive, said: “It may cause people to launder their status in other countries for two weeks before they come back to the UK.

“That is what people did earlier in the pandemic. I wouldn’t rush home for hotel quarantine. I would rather spend 10 days in a European country that has not cut off South Africa.”

However, holidaymakers using such a loophole are facing shrinking options, as on Friday the EU Commission urged member states to place restrictions on arrivals after a case of the new variant was discovered in Belgium.

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