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Airline passengers from high-risk countries prevented from disembarking

Airline passengers from high-risk countries prevented from disembarking

SA's three main international airports received at least 20 aircraft from high risk countries on Friday as a ban on passengers travelling by air from high-risk countries took effect.

Friday was the first day of the implementation of the ban to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The implementation of the ban followed the gazetting of regulations to direct the prohibition of embarkation and disembarkation of foreign citizens from South Korea, Italy, Spain, Iran, Germany, the US, the UK, France and China.

“Since this morning the airport has received 14 aircraft, which are being met by Port Health Services for regulated health assessments. The department of home affairs' immigration services and the SA Police Service are also part of the integrated team,” said Airports Company SA (Acsa) in a statement.

It said the disembarkation of foreign nationals from high-risk countries was suspended at the airport until further notice.

Acsa said this meant the aircraft would be grounded at the airport until they could return to their country of origin.

Since the travel ban announcements, some airlines have already started cancelling their scheduled flights and have notified the affected passengers accordingly, said Acsa.

“Acsa regrets any inconvenience caused to both crew and travellers on the first day of the implementation of these travel restrictions. However, minimising the spread of Covid-19 for all nationalities is being prioritised,” it added.

Announcing the regulations on Wednesday, transport minister Fikile Mbalula said SA citizens and permanent residents were allowed to disembark and would go through a rigorous medical assessment by Port Health Services.

Mbalula said the exception to this rule of disallowing foreign nationals would be diplomats serving in SA. He said they would be treated the same as returning SA citizens.

Acsa airports managing flights from high-risk countries are OR Tambo International, Cape Town International and King Shaka International Airport.

“Should ... nationals from the high-risk countries be airborne and land in the country, Air Traffic Navigation Services together with Acsa will follow the process that they have in place, where the aircraft will be redirected to a remote parking apron and the relevant authorities will be notified.”

Mbalula said in cases where passengers from high-risk countries arrived in SA, connecting or transiting to other countries, airport authorities would conduct a robust assessment to implement quarantine where required.

“It is important to note that all SA citizens returning from high-risk countries, Port Health Services will conduct health checks, including the clinical assessment and quarantine. Part of this work has been happening,” said Mbalula.

Mbalula said at a briefing on Friday that one of the 20 arrivals was an Air China flight at OR Tambo International Airport, from Shenzhen. The aircraft was redirected to a remote parking apron and 68 Chinese nationals were not allowed to disembark.

Eighty SA nationals, including students, on the aircraft were screened by Port Health and processed back into the country by the department of home affairs. They were then taken to a facility and subjected to clinical assessments that would determine applicable quarantine measures.