Johannesburg Airport Isolating And Returning Planes From High Risk COVID-19 Countries

Aircraft arriving at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport are facing huge disruption as passengers from high-risk COVID-19 areas are not being allowed to disembark. Aircraft from numerous major airlines, including Air China, Lufthansa, Alitalia and British Airways, are being blocked from approaching the terminal, with only South African passengers allowed to disembark.

Lufthansa A380 at Johannesburg
Aircraft from German carrier Lufthansa have been banned from approaching the terminal building. Photo: Getty

What’s happening?

Reports suggest that aircraft arriving in South Africa from countries deemed to be high risk are being asked to return to their destinations. The Airport Company South Africa (ACSA) is reported by ENCA as confirming that only South Africans are being allowed to disembark aircraft that have already landed.

Aircraft arriving at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport are being taken to isolation bays, according to reports. There, the health department will screen all passengers before allowing them to continue their journeys.

But, it seems their journeys will not be where they had planned to go. In fact, by all accounts, the only place they’ll be able to travel is right back where they came from. The airport has issued a statement carried by ENCA saying,

“Please be advised that foreign nationals will not be permitted to disembark. The aircraft will be contained at an isolated bay with all officials ensuring the utmost care is taken. We are working with the airline to ensure that foreign nationals return to the country of origin.”

Simple Flying notes that, according to information shared on social media, aircraft operated by Air China, Lufthansa, Alitalia and British Airways are all on lockdown. More may also be affected, but information is still being gathered.

Doors to remain closed

A number of aircraft have been seen at OR Tambo waiting in holding bays with doors closed.

Some passengers were seen to be taken away from an Air China aircraft by bus. Speculation is that this will be for intense screening.

Looking on FlightRadar, the aircraft are no longer showing up as they have landed. However, we can see a flurry of activity of ground vehicles to the east of the airport, suggesting this is where the aircraft are being held.

Johannesburg Airport Isolating And Returning Planes From High Risk COVID-19 Countries
OR Tambo Airport this morning. Photo: FlightRadar24

Travel ban in force

The South African government issued a travel ban on foreign nationals from identified ‘high risk’ areas on the 17th March. In the advisory, it identified those from Italy, Iran, Korea, Spain, Germany, the USA, the UK, France, Switzerland and China as those banned from entering.

At the time, it said people holding passports of these nations would not be granted a visa, and anyone already holding a visa should consider it revoked with immediate effect. As well as passport holders, anyone who had traveled to any of those countries in the past 20 days would be denied a visa.

South Africans arriving from the at risk locations would be allowed to enter, but would have to enter self-isolation or quarantine upon arrival. The document noted that anyone arriving in South Africa would be subjected to medical screening for COVID-19, and that those from medium risk countries would need ‘high intensity’ screening.

That begs the question of why these flights were arriving at the airport at all. If they were repatriation flights, they should have arrived empty. However, the response by Johannesburg Airport suggests that there were indeed passengers on board. Twitter users have suggested that some of the planes contained only South Africans, but that has not been confirmed by either the airlines or the airport at this time.

Locals are questioning why these aircraft were even allowed to land, and are accusing the president Cyril Ramaphosa of going back on his word. With 150 cases recorded in the nation, South Africa is poised for its own outbreak of coronavirus, and is doing its best to contain the situation.

Further updates will be provided as they come to light.