Speaking Notes for the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor, at the Press Briefing on South Africa’s Response to COVID-19 pandemic – 31 March 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and is giving rise to problems and challenges that governments across the world are struggling to deal with. Over the last two months the world has changed dramatically and this impacts on governance challenges. As DIRCO we have to focus on many fronts. The most important one is ensuring that we play our part in curtailing the spread of the virus in our population, so as to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. International travel restrictions as part of a social distancing strategies have been implemented by many countries in the world. These travel restrictions are accompanied by national strategies that limits movements of people through lockdowns to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
This has resulted in many travellers across the world finding themselves stranded in foreign countries, including many South Africans. We empathise with their plight and are doing whatever is within our means to assist them to be safe, as comfortable as possible and to travel back to South Africa.
Our missions abroad, have been collating data of South Africans stranded at airports and cities across the world as countries implement measures aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic
The most recent data on that we have suggests that we may have 1 471 South Africans stranded across the world. Of this number, 723 are students, 204 people who are workers, 224 tourists, 320 who haven’t disclosed. I cannot say that these numbers are 100 percent accurate as it is based on people who have approached us for assistance through our missions and consular services. There may be more people in need of assistance that we do not know about yet.
In terms of the assistance Dirco is providing to stranded South Africans, I have directed that priority be given to those who are stranded at the airports, running out of accommodation, the elderly and the sick.
Our Missions where possible will continue to render consular services, including negotiating with the governments where there are lockdowns in order to facilitate the movement of stranded South Africans.
Given the difficulties associated with travel restrictions we appeal to those who can afford to return to do so at their own cost. Some have started organizing themselves into groups and have approached the Department to ensure their safe passage home. Others are students whose accommodation in crowded dormitories forced them to come home.
Some South Africans have explored options such as arranging private charter flights to SA. This can be done in cooperation with their travel insurance companies, their sponsors or in groups with other citizens in the same country. In such cases, we have requested our Missions to assist with obtaining flight clearances for chartered flights in the host countries and to get permission to depart on such chartered flight.
Some of our citizens have indicated that they are able to bring themselves home. My department will facilitate with logistics and consular services to enable them travel back safely.
For those who cannot depart, my department will be liaising with families and friends in SA to contribute to the payment for accommodation. Such funds can be transferred by Western Union or MoneyGram, commercial banks or via international EFT directly to the account of the institutions.
For the rest of the South Africans who might not be stranded or distressed, we have advised that they remain where they are to reduce movement until the end of the lockdown.
We also make a special appeal that they observe all the rules and regulations put in place by the authorities of the countries where they are in, as these are meant to curb the spread of this COVID-19 virus.
I have tasked our Missions to also determine from host countries whether the authorities can offer any assistance to foreigners stranded in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the issuing / extension of visas.
I must take this opportunity to thank all the countries that have assisted in this regard not with only consular services but also have donated both financially as well as with other resources necessary to fight the spread of this virus.
Our Consular Services Unit in our Head Office is monitoring calls of stranded South Africans daily to ensure that they are informed all the time.
We are aware of the anxiety the closure of borders must have caused to embassies. According to the WHO guidelines, countries have an obligation to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread across countries in order to stem the pandemic once and for all.
Our Missions and Head Office will continue to be in touch with all South Africans until they are comfortably reunited with their families. The Regulation require of all incoming nationals, irrespective of risk category, to undergo screening, testing and be quarantined.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION