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Canadians stuck in South Africa amid Omicron scramble to find flights home

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TORONTO —
Canadians currently stuck in South Africa are running out of options as they navigate confusing travel rules to come home.

Richard Maisel arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, on Nov. 24, just as the world first learned of the B.1.1.259 variant — later named “Omicron” – and is now looking at another two weeks in the country as airlines and governments restrict travel from southern Africa.

“This has been incredibly frustrating and stressful,” he told CTV News Channel on Monday.

Maisel said he is running low on options as most airlines will not accept Canadian travellers, while the federal government requires an in-transit PCR test for entry into Canada, which rules out several connecting airports.

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“Most of the European airlines are only taking EU citizens back, not allowing Canadians to board the flights,” he said. “The American airlines — Delta and United — are only allowed American citizens to come back.”

Maisel said he’s only been able to find a flight to Germany that accepts Canadians and provides in-transit PCR testing, but the next flight isn’t for one or two weeks.

“Luckily for me… I have my parents to stay with,” he said. “Most Canadians on the chat group are staying in hotels or Airbnbs and they have no where to go.”

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Jonathan and Rene Goldman are in a similar situation. They flew to Cape Town for a family member’s 90th birthday and are now stuck in South Africa with few flight options to return home.

“Because we don’t have a direct (flight) to Canada, on one really wants to help us,” Rene told CTV News.

Twenty members on Team Canada’s under-21 field hockey team do not have a clear path back to Canada after the team had travelled to the country in advance of the Junior World Cup.

“We’re playing a waiting game right now,” said Danielle Husar, a player on the team. “We’ve got a big team of people back home working, as well as the government.”

Canada had been set to play against Uruguay, England and Belgium in the first two weeks of December, but the tournament has been cancelled.

“Everyone is safe and well – the team will remain in [sic] situ while the flight home is arranged,” said Kevin Underhill, spokesperson for Field Hockey Canada, in a statement to CTV News Vancouver Island.

“(Sports Canada and Global Affairs) understand this is a junior national team which is only in South Africa to represent Canada at the world level,” said Underhill. “Field Hockey Canada feels fortunate to have the highest levels of government working on this on our behalf.”

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On Friday, the Canadian government banned travellers from the southern African countries of South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini. Anyone who had travelled through those counties in the previous 14 days is asked to quarantine until they can provide a negative test result.

Health officials have confirmed three cases of the Omicron variant in Canada: two in Ottawa and one in Quebec. There are also four more suspected Omicron cases in Ontario.

It is still unclear how transmissible and dangerous this new variant may be. Researchers have said more information is needed to make those conclusions.

With files from CTVNews.ca Writers Nicole Bogart and Hannah Jackson, CTV News Montreal Bureau Chief Genevieve Beauchemin and CTV News Vancouver Island

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