SA permanent residents abroad are being told they can’t come home, ‘chaos’ as OR Tambo tests for Covid-19

Business Insider SA
Travel bans
(Constantine Johnny, Getty)
  • South Africa's travel restrictions, aimed at curbing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, are causing chaos as they are patchily implemented.
  • Some permanent residents – who must be allowed entry back into South Africa, no matter where they come from – are being denied boarding for flights back to SA.
  • Meanwhile, restrictions on travellers from some countries were not fully applied on Thursday, then caused chaos at OR Tambo on Friday.
  • For more stories go to

Some South African residents in various countries were unable to board flights home as of Friday, while chaos reportedly broke out at OR Tambo when travel bans were – finally – implemented.

Under regulations intended to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus behind Covid-19, travellers from high-risk countries are banned from entering South Africa, while those from medium-risk countries must subject themselves to enhanced health screening.

But South Africa citizens, and permanent residents, are still allowed to enter the country, no matter where they travel from or their state of health on arrival. In theory.

See also: Switzerland is now also on South Africa’s Covid-19 travel ban list. Here’s the full rundown.

In reality, several South African permanent residents said, airlines refused to allow them to board planes on the basis that they would not be allowed entry into South Africa.

One airline told South African residents to apply for visas for re-entry into SA, although there is neither a need nor a process to do so.

It was not immediately clear how many residents were affected as they tried to make their way back home, but several airlines appeared to have taken the same approach.

"Permanent residents are allowed to return and will be subjected to the same regime as South Africans such as screening and/or testing and/or quarantining," confirmed home affairs spokesperson Siya Qoza.

Meanwhile chaos reportedly broke out at OR Tambo as entry measures were implemented – on Friday morning.

Travellers from high-risk countries should have been banned from entering SA as of Thursday, but insiders said those measures had only been implemented during the course of Friday morning.

As not all airlines had started denying travellers with previously valid visas boarding yet, some visitors were apparently turned around at OR Tambo.

Some South African residents said they were subjected to detailed questioning about their medical condition, while some foreign visitors said they were not aware of having been thermally scanned to check for fevers.

The airport referred questions to the department of health, which did not respond.

Also see our novel coronavirus update page, with everything important you need to know about Covid-19 in South Africa as soon as we know it

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