A dream holiday to see the cherry blossoms in Japan turned into a nightmare for a South African family who are now stranded in East Asia.
“We have run out of medication and the cost of living in Japan is far too great for our weak South African Rand. Minute noodles have become our staple diet,” Melissa Hofmann told News24.
Melissa, her husband Adrian and their son Cameron are from Midrand and they departed for their “once in a lifetime trip” from OR Tambo International Airport on March 14.
“At the time of our departure, the pandemic of coronavirus had not hit South Africa,” she said.
After a week in Japan, their return flight was cancelled. Ethiopian Airlines had moved their return date by three days, which was acceptable at the time, she said.
“We enjoyed the time spent in Japan but, on the morning of 26 March, we woke up to the shocking realisation that airports would be closed. Panic set in and we immediately made the trip to the SA Embassy in Tokyo.
“We were reassured that South Africans were permitted to return home, the problem being that flights carrying passengers were prohibited to land. As we returned to the hotel, we realised that trying to arrange a flight out that evening with the carrier we had a return ticket on was impossible. We would never make the lockdown time due to flight departures from Tokyo in the late evening and, with connection flights, flight times [were] over 24 hours.”
Trapped in Japan, they have managed to find a basic, cheap hotel in which to stay.
“Even at these rates, we are dipping into credit cards and money we do not have. We have even considered sleeping at the airport, but this will greatly traumatise our seven-year-old son, who we need to keep mentally happy and healthy.”
A notice has since been put up at the hotel that, should Tokyo go into lockdown, guests would be requested to check out.
“At that point, we will have no place to go.”
1 471 stranded abroad
Melissa works for Airports Company South Africa, and she said it’s “quite ironic that the closure of my work has left me stranded”.
“Ethiopian Airlines has advised that the first available flight that could potentially return us home could depart on 19 April, at an additional cost of R25 000. Alternatively, the next flight available for our fare class would be on 6 May.
“We hope that we will be assisted with finding our way home before the experience of a lifetime leaves us in a state of financial trouble that will take years to recover from.”
The government this week revealed that 1 471 South African citizens were stranded abroad and had appealed to return home amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Of those, 723 are students, 204 are workers, 224 are tourists and 320 had not disclosed their status.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor this week said government would allow citizens stranded abroad to return to South Africa, with her office facilitating the move.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said his department would allow repatriation.
The evacuation would be allowed provided the person had a fully paid return flight ticket and, on arrival in SA, the person would be subjected to mandatory quarantine for a period of up to 21 days.
In Durban, Steve van Rooyen is worried about his son stranded in Burma.
Luke, after being unemployed for two years, moved overseas to teach English. He taught in Thailand for two years and now works in Burma.
“He has been there now for just over one year. He did sign a contract for another year to end in March 2021 but, when this coronavirus broke out, they cancelled his contract,” Steve said.
“When he tried to leave, the flights were all cancelled to South Africa because we were now on lockdown, so he had to stay.”
Luke was happy and safe in Burma, Van Rooyen said.
“I did speak to my son and he did say that he would like to come home as he is running out of money and his visa has just expired.
“If there is any way of getting him back here, I would be grateful.”
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