Calgary family stranded in South Africa amid travel bans prompted by Omicron variant

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A family from Calgary stuck in South Africa due to newly imposed COVID-19 travel restrictions hopes to return home.

Calgary family stranded in South Africa amid travel bans prompted by Omicron variant
© Tom Reynolds / Global News The family, all of whom are Canadian citizens, was supposed to return to Canada on Nov. 27, but travel bans due to the newly-discovered Omicron variant impeded their trip home.

Aqil Jhetam’s wife, daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa on Nov. 19 because of a family emergency.

The family — all Canadian citizens and have everything to meet travel requirements — was supposed to return to Canada on Nov. 27, but travel bans due to the newly discovered Omicron COVID-19 variant impeded their trip home.

“We are very concerned, it’s stressful. They need to get back home,” Jhetam told Global News. “We are very worried here and we don’t know what to do here. We can’t do much. We’re just at the mercy of what the government can do.”

Video: Impact of Omicron COVID-19 variant on travel

According to Jhetam, the family was originally scheduled to fly back to Calgary through Amsterdam, but only citizens of the European Union were allowed on the plane.

With no direct flights between South Africa and Canada, their only possible travel options were through the Europe, the United Kingdom, or the United Arab Emirates; all of which have imposed travel bans from South Africa.

The United States also announced on Monday that it would also be imposing travel bans on southern African nations.

Now Jhetam hopes for the possibility of repatriation flights out of the region from the Canadian government.

“We’re just hoping something can be done from the government to try and speak to the other governments in Europe to allow Canadian passengers to board the plane so they can come from European countries,” Jhetam said.

There is no word from the federal government as to what action would be taken for Canadian citizens abroad.

In a statement, Global Affairs Canada said it has received reports of travellers overseas impacted by the new travel bans, but couldn’t provide further details due to privacy concerns.

The department suggested that any Canadians in need of emergency consular assistance abroad should contact Global Affairs Canada’s Emergency Watch and Response Centre.

“The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the individual. All travellers are strongly advised to follow Canada’s official travel advice,” a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson said in a statement.

“Canada’s border measures are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. Other travel restrictions may be imposed suddenly. Airlines may suspend or reduce flights without notice. Travel plans may be severely disrupted, making it difficult to return home.”

Video: Omicron variant detected in Canada

Travels bans imposed due to the Omicron variant scare are the subject of criticism from the World Health Organization.

WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries around the world to follow science and international health regulations instead of using travel restrictions.

“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Moeti said in a statement.

“If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.”

“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” said Moeti. “COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions.”

With international travel beginning to pick back up following the uptake in vaccinations around the world, travel experts said travel restrictions are now an inherent risk of travelling during the pandemic.

Video: What we know about the Omicron variant

Lesley Keyter, also known as the Travel Lady, suggested travellers be prepared for a similar situation with travel insurance, and to do research on all requirements before heading abroad.

“Travel these days is not kind of like in the in the good ol’ days; it’s a whole study,” Keyter told Global News. “Before we even book anything, we need to check exactly what the requirements are.”

Jhetam, who is still in Calgary, has contacted the federal government in the hopes of getting some answers for his family.

“We haven’t heard anything,” he said. “We’re hoping, we’re just hoping they can do something for our Canadian citizens there.”

–with files from the Associated Press

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