Having reported news for almost six years, I seldom become a subject of it myself. Yesterday was one such rare exception as I was repatriated from South Africa to Germany.

I, along with my family, boarded the first flight out of the country on Friday as part of an evacuation measure expected to bring back some 5,000 German nationals home as the Wuhan Coronavirus reaches the southern tip of Africa.

Following the first confirmed case of the life-threatening virus in early March, South Africa imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown starting March 27. So far, the country registered 1,585 cases of infection and 9 related deaths. Despite relatively low numbers, given more than 1.2 million infected people worldwide, the government in Pretoria is fearful of a nationwide pandemic. The authorities fears hidden cases of the virus in huge and sprawling townships across the nation. According to the country’s health minister, ‘hundreds of thousands’ of Coronavirus tests are needed to project realistic figures.

Personally, it was hard to say goodbye to our new home we set up about half a year ago. We were blessed to make amazing new friends in such a short time; trustworthy enough to leave our house and our beloved 8-year-old cat ‘Mowgli’ (Yes, I am a Kipling fan!) in their care.

In past two and a half weeks, Germany brought back around 200,000 stranded tourists and nationals from Coronavirus affected countries, the German newspaper Rheinische Post stated quoting the country’s foreign minister.

The German embassy in Pretoria announced the repatriation in a statement this week:

Repatriation flights are set to start on Friday evening from both Johannesburg and Cape Town. The flights are targeted at German tourists who have been stranded in South Africa due to the lockdown and the cessation of commercial air traffic. The Embassy estimates that more than 5,000 German tourists are still in South Africa. The repatriation flights organized by the German government will also be open to citizens from other European Union member states. EU nationals are requested to contact their respective embassies.

The United States is expected to join Germany in evacuating its nationals from the country, the South African media confirmed. Some 25,000 Americans have been repatriated from over 50 countries in the wake of the global outbreak. The repatriation task force set up by the U.S. State Department aims to bring home another 9,000 U.S. national in coming weeks, the USA Today reported recently. The U.S. aims to bringing all Americans home, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured.

The South African broadcaster News24 reported the evacuation planned by the U.S. embassy:

Preparations to repatriate US and German citizens are under way as the number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases continues to rise in South Africa. (…) The US embassy in South Africa urged its citizens who wished to return home to reach out to it.

This entails filling out a form detailing their location and personal details.

“We want to ensure that if an opportunity to return is presented, we have as complete a database as possible.

“Once specific flight details are confirmed, US citizens need to make their own way to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Cape Town International Airport, as well as King Shaka International Airport in Durban,” the embassy said.

 

Our 24 hour-long ordeal, which included repeated medical checks and long waits, came to an end when we reached our home near Cologne. It is great to be close to (despite observing all ‘social distancing’ norms) friends and family after six long months, but I am overwhelmed by the stories of affected lives and disrupted livelihoods wherever I go.

Our return to Germany would not have been possible without the tireless efforts made by the German embassy staff on the ground in South Africa. For that I remain immensely grateful. My gratitude also goes to the crew members of the South African Airways who joyfully and professionally undertook this mission at great personal risk.

German Ambassador to South Africa Martin Schäfer on the repatriation measures

[Copyright © 2020 Vijeta Uniyal]

 

 
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