'Immense relief': Canadian field hockey team gets return flight home from South Africa
A team of Canadian field hockey players will start their journey home from South Africa on Wednesday, after being stuck in the country due to recent COVID-19 travel restrictions.
"As a parent myself, thinking about my own daughter, if she were to be in this situation, yeah, I would say immense relief," Nancy Mollenhauer, two-time Olympian and touring manager for the Canadian junior women's team, told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday.
"But also with some trepidation, because we all know that things can change quickly."
The team was scheduled to play at the Junior World Cup in South Africa this month before it was cancelled due to the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant named Omicron by the World Health Organization.
On Nov. 26 and 30, the Canadian government barred foreign nationals from entering Canada if, within the 14 days prior, they had been to countries in Africa including Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Canadian citizens, permanent residents and people with status under the Indian Act who had been to any of those countries in the previous two weeks were also subject to stricter pre-departure and arrival testing, screening and quarantine measures. Direct flights from these countries also have stopped and, along with a requirement from the Canadian government for an in-transit PCR test, some have reported that certain airlines are not accepting Canadian travellers.
The Canadian team has been in Potchefstroom, about 120 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg, since then.
Although the team was barred from boarding in South Africa, due to the requirement from the Canadian government that they receive a negative PCR test in a third country, Field Hockey Canada recently announced it had received an exemption from the federal government, The Canadian Press reported.
The team is now scheduled to fly out of Johannesburg on Wednesday and transit through Germany.
Had she been unable to get an earlier flight, player Nora Struchtrup said she would have had to quarantine over Christmas, as per the federal government's rules.
"It's basically just huge relief," she said. "My mom can't wait to have me home, neither can my dad."
Struchtrup said the team had training that morning and got the afternoon off. "So we got to spend some time in the South African sun, get some schoolwork done before two very busy travel days, and yeah, just enjoy South Africa."
Canada's temporary exemption allows eligible passengers leaving or transiting through South Africa to get a negative PCR test from an accredited lab in the country within 48 hours of a departure flight.
The exemption allows eligible travellers to fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town, South Africa, to Frankfurt, Germany, on a Lufthansa flight that departs on or before Dec. 13.
While a little nerve-racking, Mollenhauer said "fortunately, everything looks to be on the go."
Philip Hattingh, who has been stranded in South Africa after travelling to the country to see his sick mother, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that he has a flight booked through Frankfurt on Dec. 13, a process he described as worrisome and also expensive.
"I don't know what's going to happen at the moment, I guess we'll see in the coming few days, but yeah, I had to rebook my flight about four times now, so hopefully I won't have to do that again," he said.
Hattingh said he, along with his family, are all fully vaccinated, which he adds is the only reason he travelled.
The travel restrictions haven't just affected Canadian citizens or permanent residents like himself, he said, but also those with work permits who have sold their homes and left their jobs to start new lives in Canada.
"A lot of people are going through a very hard time at the moment," he said.