South Africans stranded in Panama secure flight home at long last
Cape Town – A group of 20 South Africans stranded in Panama, South America, are set to return to South Africa after last-minute negotiations ensured they will reach Brazil in time to catch their SAA repatriation connecting flight home.
The group will fly from Panama to Sao Paulo in Brazil and then catch a connecting flight to Johannesburg between June 15/16.
According to online publication SA People, the South Africans have been stuck in Panama for the past few months due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, prompting governments across the world to implement stringent lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus.
A South African man, known as Andre, created a WhatsApp group to connect all South Africans stranded in Panama, SA People reported. According to a press statement issued by the group, getting to Brazil turned into a nightmare.
“There has been no way for South Africans in the entire Central and South American region to get home, apart from those with an American visa (vía the USA) and those who were able to get to Brazil and afford an overly expensive amount for a Qatar Airlines flight back home," said Andre.
"From the entire South and Central American region there is only one option for us and that is from São Paolo, Brazil, on the 15th of June with South African Airways. We are extremely excited about this, but there is one huge problem – we cannot get to Brazil.
“There are no flights to and from Brazil and won’t be any until the supposed opening of the airport in Panama at the end of the month.
"We are approaching 90 days since lockdown was implemented, with restrictions having only been lifted slightly for a few days and there are already talks about going back to a very strict lockdown. We need to get out,” Andre said earlier.
Copa Airlines, Panama’s national carrier, informed the group of 32 people that they were able to assist them in getting home, The group includes elderly people, people who are ill and families and young children.
According to the group, the Boeing 737-800 came at a very high cost and they could not raise the money required to charter the flight. But after a lot of negotiation and back-and-forth communication, Copa Airlines decided to open the flight.
The agreement with the group changed from chartering the entire plane to paying per passenger.
This will be SAA's second repatriation flight from Brazil. The first was at the beginning of the pandemic. Panama City airport remains closed to normal operation.
“Sadly, not all of our group will be travelling with us,” Andre said.
Only 20 out of the 32 South Africans will return home on the repatriation flight due to financial issues.
“Without the unimaginable assistance and dedication received from many volunteers, we would not be going home. Copa Airlines have really come through for us. We are very grateful for the understanding and commitment they have shown,” he said.
The group worked closely with the South African embassy in Mexico and the returnees are due to take off on Saturday evening. There will be a 36-hour stopover in Brazil, and the group will be placed in quarantine for 14 days after arriving in South Africa.
“The South African embassy in Mexico has been incredible during this entire experience. The South African expat community in Panama has also assisted us tremendously,” Andre said.
African News Agency (ANA)