Inside government quarantine in South Africa

Stronger Together! has never been more pertinent than in our fight against Covid-19. Springbok Rugby Captain Siya Kolisi, who cemented this slogan, was one of the first to make an impassioned plea for South Africans to stand together and stay at home so that we can get on with our lives quicker. In this mailbox – an insider view of what it’s like to be in government quarantine – Susan Michael Guthrie is full of praise for SAA and the Department of Health. She says if this is an example of what we can achieve under difficult circumstances then there is definitely hope for our future – “when we all work together, the sky is the limit for our South Africa”. – Editor

By Susan Michael Guthrie

The Mercy flight from Frankfurt, Germany on 18 April 2020 was filled with South Africans keen to reach home ground. I was one of them. Almost everyone on board had flown in from various points in and around Europe to purchase tickets in Frankfurt from SAA. Some managed to buy their tickets online but at the SAA desk we had to pay with a South African credit card or cash. The only drawback to this arrangement was that when flying into Frankfurt, the airlines bringing us in could not book our luggage on to South Africa because we had no tickets. This resulted in some luggage remaining unclaimed on the baggage conveyors in Frankfurt airport.

SAA did the best they could. The member of staff who assisted me was on the phone for almost twenty minutes and assured by baggage handlers in the airport that my luggage had been located and was en route to the SAA bay. It wasn’t. It still isn’t. Considering the fact that there was a minuscule number of passenger flights both in and out of Frankfurt airport that day, it is quite surprising how little luggage was correctly channelled by the airport.

Once in the terminal there was a typically festive South African atmosphere, with a mix of our languages and people. The three members of SAA staff who sold tickets/tracked luggage/fielded questions/issued boarding passes/arranged for government loans to pay for some tickets, were amazing. They were dealing with approximately 260 people who were all slightly panicked, stressed and some of them (from Nepal) had been camping in the terminal for seven days with only the friendly German Police and McDonald’s food for company. The SAA staff deserve a vote of thanks.

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Once on board, Captain Pretorius and his voluntary crew members were true ambassadors for our nation. The veteran Captain welcomed passengers on board with a speech about how important it is for all South Africans to pull together at this time and throw their weight and support behind President Ramaphosa. He emphasised that our Springbok captain hero, Siya Kolisi had recently shown the nation what it is capable of when everyone pulls together as one and requested that it be done again in following our President’s lead. Applause for the Captain was followed by the crew leading us in singing our National Anthem before take-off.

Landing at 05h00 the morning of 19th April, the Department of Health officials entered the plane to check and note temperatures. Fresh masks were handed out and we were organised into small groups for processing through immigration. From there a short minibus ride, with a lot more social distancing that we’d had on the plane, returned us to the tarmac where our luggage stood awaiting collection. Those of us unable to locate ours were assisted by a cheerful ground crew lady staff member who opened files for all of us and assured us that our luggage will come on the next flight. None of us actually know when that will be.

Police then escorted the transport fleet to a nearby hotel where we were processed through reception and on to our rooms in small groups. The instructions are to remain in our rooms at all times but we may leave to stand outside for cigarettes and/or sunshine. The rooms are comfortable, clean and were pre-sanitised. We each have a private room with shower, a fridge, milk, sugar, coffee, tea and receive three delivered meals a day with a cool drink and fruit. This is not a tough ordeal by any means. We are fed, warm, clean, and have access to the internet and television. The hotel is struggling to cope as they are only allowed to work with staff housed on the premises. No outsiders are allowed in for our protection and theirs. Yet our meals are delivered with a smile, the rubbish is regularly removed from the communal bins placed at the end of each row and there is nothing to complain about.

The Department of Health arrived to test us for the virus. We were admitted into a large conference hall in groups of twenty. Once inside we were seated safely and quickly moved up the row until shown to one of seven tables where we sanitised our hands, filled in some forms, sanitised again and moved to the other side of the hall to have our throat swab taken. The throat swab is simple, quick and painless. The staff handling the swabs sanitised their gloved hands, pulled off the gloves, sanitised their bare hands, pulled on fresh gloves, sanitised their gloved hands and then took the swab which was sealed in a coded bag with all our forms. The staff were extremely empathetic, kind, polite, careful and caring. Well done DOH. Now we await results.

Government quarantine is well organised and working. If this is an example of what we can achieve under difficult circumstances then there is definitely hope for our future. This virus may only be beginning and we will probably lose more precious lives to it but when we all work together, the sky is the limit for our South Africa. I am happy to be home. I am proud of our President and most importantly for our nation, when we work together we have hope.

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