With a misty look, between frustration and relief, Valérie Leduc leaves the counter at Johannesburg airport with a sesame in her pocket: finally, a seat on a return flight to Belgium, via Addis Ababa, in three days.
“We had the impression of being criminals,” says the young woman.
On vacation in South Africa, this 30-year-old Belgian had to find a solution, her initial flight, which was to pass through Switzerland, was canceled after the borders were closed a few hours after the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19, named "Omicron" and classified as "of concern" by the WHO.
This Saturday afternoon, as AFP saw, many Europeans lined up to check in for an afternoon flight to Addis Ababa - the capital of Ethiopia.
The reason is simple: the borders are closed, they go through other countries to reach Europe… "We first tried to modify our existing ticket but it was not at all possible", says Laura Herde, student. Berlin woman who was about to go hiking with friends when she learned of the closure of borders one after the other.
“We had to buy tickets back.
On the first possible flight, ”said the 25-year-old.
Read alsoClosing the borders, is it really effective?
The crowd was so high this Saturday at Johannesburg airport that the Covid test center - most of the time it takes a negative test to get on the plane - found itself saturated, without ink or internet access.
“They can neither print our results, nor send them to us by email,” notes Robert Giebel, 36, exasperated.
"We now need a PCR test of less than 24 hours", whereas a simple proof of vaccination was sufficient a few days ago.
Relief at arrivals
On the other side of the globe, other passengers show their relief. This is the case in Amsterdam for example. “We were tense” before boarding, testifies Rita Kizito, her face covered with a black mask. “Our relatives sent us lots of messages:
You cannot go to France, the United Kingdom…
”, she says. "What really scared us was when we saw the passengers on the Air France flight being sent home." This Ugandan professor returned from two weeks in Johannesburg is surprised: “We have not even been tested” in Amsterdam, she says.
Yet it is in this same airport, the day before Friday, that the arrival of two KLM planes, which left Cape Town and Johannesburg, was made in chaos.
The passengers of the two flights had been placed in isolation in two separate spaces for 12 hours, the time to be tested.
It emerged this Saturday that among the 592 passengers on these flights, 61 tested positive for Covid-19.
Dutch health authorities believe, without having yet proof, that the Omicron variant "probably" caused the Covid-19 contamination of several of these passengers.
South Africa deplores the situation
For South Africa, the situation is difficult to live with. While the Omicron variant is detected all over the world - several cases have been confirmed in Belgium, England, Italy, Germany, etc. -, South Africa faces border closures. These travel bans amount "to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and its ability to detect new variants more quickly," said the government. “New variants have been detected in other countries. Each of these cases has no recent connection to southern Africa. It should be noted that the reaction to these countries is radically different from that of the cases in southern Africa, ”he also regrets.
Pretoria fears the impact of these closures on "families, the travel and tourism industry, businesses".
But also that they dissuade other countries from reporting the discovery of future variants for fear of finding themselves sanctioned.
“We are sometimes punished for being transparent and doing things quickly,” lamented South African virology star Tulio de Oliveira, whose team detected the variant.
Travel bans do not "scientifically make a lot of sense," he added, recalling that Washington had imposed it on China at the start of the pandemic, before ending up with the highest number of infections.