PICS: South Africans return home after Covid-19 hell in Thailand
It hasn't been an easy road for South Africans stranded in Thailand. What began as an exotic holiday turned into a nightmare when travel bans were implemented in South Africa and many other countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many who were unable to afford hotel accommodation after facing financial strain, made the streets and the airport their home.
Just when most started to lose hope, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), with the assistance of the South African Embassy in Thailand, arranged the flight back to South Africa, which landed at the OR Tambo International Airport on Friday night.
One of the South Africans, Mario Boffa, felt a weight lifted off his shoulders since arriving back in the country.
“There were a couple of attempts to arrange a repatriation flight, but it was not an easy road,” Boffa, who is currently in quarantine at a Johannesburg hotel, said.
He said South Africans had to register for the flight. He applauded the South African Embassy for doing all the paperwork and for their hard work behind the scenes to ensure the flight took off.
They also arranged for South Africans from other parts of Thailand to travel to Bangkok for the flight.
Boffa said: “It's the most amazing feeling in the world landing in South Africa. Being welcomed by immigration staff, the cabin crew, the police and everyone at the hotel is an indescribable feeling. They welcomed us with open arms. We felt wanted, cared for and safe. They sang songs, smiled at us and made us feel at home."
He commended the government on their speedy response: "We will be forever grateful for how they have served their country during this pandemic.”
Lee-Ann Machelm visited Thailand for a holiday with her husband and friends in March.
She travelled a 20-hour journey by bus from Phuket to Bangkok to make the repatriation flight. They weren't able to fly as Phuket was under lockdown until May 15.
“I am emotionally overwhelmed and grateful to Jesus for bringing us home safely. It feels good to be back on home soil. The 10-hour flight went on with no glitches, except for a slight delay. The flight attendants were amazing,” she said.
Machelm revealed the process once they landed in South Africa. They needed to fill medical forms and had their temperature checked while on the aircraft.
“Only 20 passengers to disembark at a time. We needed to maintain a one-metre social distancing, and this took some time. We collected our luggage on the airport tarmac, before proceeding to our quarantine facility by a police convoy. There were about 25 vans as only 10 passengers we're allowed in the van,” Machelm explained.
Once at the hotel, the travellers had to walk through a sanitising tunnel, one of the precautions taken by the quarantine facility. After they checked in, the guests were informed about the rules and regulations that needed to be followed.
“Once we get tested by the medical team, we will be informed when we can leave. We will know in nine days. I cannot wait to be reunited with my children and my family,” she said.
Cape Town resident Chantal Steyl planned the perfect holiday to surprise her husband and daughter for their birthdays in March. Steyl describes being back in South Africa as "amazing".
“Facilities here are very good, and we are being taken care off,” she said.