‘I saw people jumping barriers for the last UK flight back from South Africa’

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When my phone first started insistently buzzing, it was well past midnight and I was asleep, happy to be back in my [native] South Africa, after two long years of separation from family and friends. At first I ignored it, but when I finally checked, there were dozens of texts and messages. “If you want to get out of there, you need to sort this out now,” stated one from my husband. 

Bleary eyed, I began to calculate the logistics of beating the red list. I had just over 48 hours. The race was on. 

It was not how I’d envisaged my trip panning out. We all know that travel has not exactly been a breeze over the past couple of years. But things started to look up in October when the UK’s complicated traffic light system was scrapped and the remaining countries on the red list were removed. South Africa, especially jumped for joy as this meant Britons could finally visit without being subjected to a battery of PCR tests, nor a 10-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel upon their return. It was a long time coming and a much-needed boost to the country’s tourism industry. 

For me, this meant a long-awaited reunion with my family. And so, on the morning of November 11, my Qatar Airways flight touched down in Johannesburg at an unusually quiet O.R Tambo International Airport, where my parents – as always – were eagerly awaiting my arrival.

Over the next few days, I made up for lost time. I hung out with friends and family, dined at restaurants I had missed, flew to Cape Town where I did more of the same and then headed to Durban where I reunited with my sister and her family. Things were finally beginning to feel normal again. Then just 13 days into my trip, news started to emerge of a new variant. “This is not looking good,” said my dad, who had also just recently purchased air tickets for him and my mum to spend Christmas with me in London.

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