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Acsa: International flights turned back to protect SA citizens

This was also in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ban of international travel to and from these countries.

FILE: OR Tambo International Airport. Picture: @ortambo_int/Twitter.

JOHANNESBURG - The Airports Company South Africa on Friday said the turning back of flights from coronavirus (COVID-19) high-risk countries was aimed at protecting South Africans.

This was also in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ban of international travel to and from these countries. The affected countries included Iran, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United States.

Acsa said it sent back 14 flights from various countries on Friday. Acsa spokesperson Betty Maloka said South African citizens and permanent residents who were on the flights would undergo aggressive testing.

“Airports Company South Africa regrets any inconvenience caused to both crew and travellers on the first day of the implementation of these travel restrictions, however minimising the spread of COVID-19 for all nationalities is being prioritised. Passengers are encouraged to contact their airlines for details related to their specific flights,” Maloka said in a statement.

WATCH: South Africa’s coronavirus interventions

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said that 14 of the flights that were turned away at OR Tambo International Airport were already in the air when the travel ban came into effect.

Six other flights that landed at Cape Town International Airport and King Shaka International Airport where also grounded and sent back earlier on Friday.

One of these flights was Air China and had 80 South Africans on board - mostly students.

Mbalula said they were allowed to disembark.

"And should the need arise that we come to a conclusion that there is a need for a total ban, meaning you don't need to leave your country to come here under any other circumstance. The regulations mean you can get onto an airline coming from Italy and you come here, you will not be allowed to disembark."

Earlier on Friday, South African Airways announced that all international flights to these countries were suspended until the end of May.

“We have taken note of the decline in demand for air travel, which has been substantial. And for us it wouldn’t make commercial logic to continue to operate indiscriminately despite the realities we have alluded to,” said spokesperson Tlali Tlali.

To track the latest developments around the coronavirus both in South Africa and abroad, click on this live status report from Strategix.