South Africa

To fly or not to fly in the face of Covid-19

To fly or not to fly in the face of Covid-19

Hundreds of South Africans hopped on planes and flew thousands of kilometres in the face of the Covid-19 storm to spend time with their families this festive season, despite the government's warning that they do so at their own risk.

Last week international relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor said more than 30,000 South Africans were left stranded across the globe between the level 5 lockdown in March and the time when international travel was allowed again under level 1 in SA.

“Please note you will be travelling at your own risk to these countries knowing the current circumstances and the uncertainty going forward. Please ensure you are familiar with the immigration and health entry requirements of the country you will visit and SA’s entry health requirement during the pandemic,” she cautioned.

For brothers Dashayen, 26, and Yeshiagen, 29, Naidoo, who flew back to SA last week from China and the UK respectively, the flights home were a no-brainer.

After working in Bristol for two years, Yeshiagen said this trip to see his family was long overdue.

“When the lockdown ended on December 2 in the UK, we got our Covid-19 tests done and flew home immediately. SA law requires you to have a test done 72 hours before you board a flight.”

Travelling with his fiancée Shivani, he said their 12-hour flight from London's Heathrow Airport to Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport was packed, with no social distancing observed.

“We were scheduled to fly out on the Thursday, but that flight was cancelled and we were placed on another flight on Friday. Every seat on the plane was sold and we had to wear our masks throughout the flight. We haven't been home in two years so it was important to see our family.”

Dashayen boarded four flights to get back to Durban from China.

“I flew from Dalian to Guangzhou and from Guangzhou to Singapore before getting on a flight to Johannesburg and then finally to Durban. In Asia you can only sit next to the person you are travelling with. There is a lot of social distancing on the planes.”

Based in the heart of China when the coronavirus broke out, he said it was nerve-wracking being away from his family.

“I was in China when the pandemic started. My family were hounding me to come home, but I was adamant I would not leave and be the reason the virus travels to SA and possibly infects my family.”

The three have bonded with their respective families on an “isolation” holiday in the midlands since their arrival. They said seeing their family members in person made the trip worthwhile.

However, not everyone is as fortunate.

A KwaZulu-Natal nurse who is in a city which has been one of the hardest hit by Covid-19 in the world won't be able to see her family over Christmas for the first time in 12 years.

Zipho MaKubheka, 39, will see out her Christmas and New Year at the Westchester Medical Centre in New York.

“I cannot wait for this nightmare to be over. At the same time, I can’t be selfish by putting my family at risk of contracting the virus, even though I tested negative in June. Working in the medical field during this time is like walking into your own grave.”

She said her family was everything to her and not being able to see them this year was heartbreaking.

“I miss my family. It kills me that for the first time in 12 years, I won’t able to travel home this December. What's worse is that my son is in SA and I worry about him every day. I’ve been living in this country since he was four and today he’s 18. It's very stressful for both of us,” she said.

Meanwhile, it's been a series of trips for a 79-year-old health practitioner who, together with his team, have flown to and from Ghana a few times since November for work.

Speaking to TimesLIVE from Ghana, the elderly man, who can’t be identified because of his work, said he was not concerned about being more prone to the dangers associated with contracting the virus.

“I’m potentially the most compromised, but I am fit and well – 79 going on 50, as my colleagues would say.”

He said his team of health professionals would be travelling throughout the Christmas and New Year period, something that was “part of the job”.