IOL 20 March 2020
Johannesburg – Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Friday called on travellers from high-risk coronavirus countries to not come to South Africa as they would not be allowed to enter the country.
This came as South Africa grounded 20 flights at the OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka International airports on Friday.
This week, the government announced strict regulations which would see the South African government turn away non-citizens from high-risk Covid-19 countries including China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, the UK and the US – among other countries.
Airport Companies SA (ACSA) chief executive Mpumi Mpofu said 14 flights were grounded at OR Tambo in Joburg, five at Cape Town, and one at Durban’s King Shaka.
She said the flights ranged from SAA, British Airways, Air China, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Air France and Air Italia.
All of the grounded flights were carrying foreign passengers from high-risk countries, as well as locals, who were allowed to disembark, were screened and have since been quarantined.
Mbalula clarified that local airports were not shutdown and that in line with government regulations, they would continue to receive aircraft from high-risk countries, but they would not allow ‘warm bodies’ from those countries to enter South Africa.
“It means South Africans who come from those countries will be allowed to disembark. In terms of the regulations, people from high-risk countries will not be allowed to disembark. If the need arises for a total ban of the airports and the aircraft, we will announce that,” said Mbalula.
He said all charter operators were being diverted to Durban, Cape Town and Joburg – airports which had adequate health screening abilities.
“Since (we imposed the) travel ban, some airlines have started canceling flights and notified passengers accordingly. We expect more countries to do the same.
“No airport is closing, all operations are normal. Should a decision be taken for a total shutdown of the airports, that decision will come from the National Command Centre chaired by the President (Cyril Ramaphosa),” said Mbalula.
On the Chinese flight which landed at OR Tambo around 8.30am on Friday, Mbalula said: “No Chinese citizens have been allowed to disembark. Some of the citizens from China were saying they are going to Namibia and Mozambique, and those airports are shut down, so we sent them back to China”.
All grounded flights from Italy, France, China, Germany and the UK were sent back to the country of origin with foreigners onboard.
In explaining the process, Mpofu said ACSA was working closely with other state departments including Port Health, Home Affairs and the SAPS.
“The first step is for Port Health and Home Affairs to screen and confirm citizenship onboard. Once that has been determined, we allow busses onto air site, we screen, we do swab testing and the bus takes the South African citizens to a centre for quarantine,” she said.
Mpufi said an Air China flight which had about 68 Chinese nationals who were transiting to Namibia and Mozambique had to take them back to China as airports in those countries had been shut down to contain the coronavirus.
“The countries at high-risk are only part of the business of airports. Those countries which are not high-risk we will continue to receive aircraft. The situation requires us to react to whatever challenge. ACSA is satisfied with cooperation with partners at other departments,” said Mpufi.
Thomas Kgokolo, the chief executive for Air Traffic Navigation Services, said they were not rejecting any flight plans for flights headed to South Africa from high-risk countries.
“Our responsibility is to ensure the aircraft is safe in our airspace and that it lands safely in our country,” he said.
Mbalula called on South Africans to stop unnecessary travel domestically and abroad.
“Stop this unnecessary traveling,” he scolded.
“Stay where you are and socialise in your surroundings, we have to lessen the movement… This virus is not stopping, it is increasing, the Department of Health is doing a marvellous job and we must complement that,” he said.
Mbalula has grounded a ship full of more than 2000 Germans in Cape Town and will not allow them to disembark. It is understood the German government is sending four chartered flights to Cape Town to fetch the citizens this weekend.
Germany as one of the high-risk countries, is not being allowed entry into the country.
Also in Durban, an MSC Orchestra crew will only be allowed to disembark from the ship on Monday when they head straight for the airport.
And to travellers from high-risk countries, Mbalula had a stern message for them.
“We are equally emphasizing, don’t come to South Africa, we will not come to you,” he said.