Top SA rugby players in race to get home before 21-day lockdown
High-profile players and coaches stuck at an airport in Tokyo on Tuesday morning
Amid widening Covid-19 travel restrictions, some of SA's top rugby players are scurrying to get home before the 21-day lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa comes into effect from midnight on Thursday.
The clutch of Springboks and high-profile coaches faced an uncertain time at Tokyo’s second-biggest airport on Tuesday as they made a desperate bid to get back home.
Milling around the same check-in counter for the flight to Dubai were Duane Vermeulen‚ Malcolm Marx‚ Jesse Kriel, former Bok coach Allister Coetzee and one-time Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
Bok No 8 Vermeulen tweeted about the uncertain status of their flight from Haneda International to Dubai. It was scheduled to leave just after midnight.
“Good times finding out our flights are cancelled as we arrive at the check in counter. Absolutely no support from @emirates. Stuck in Japan indefinitely with my family back home‚” Vermeulen tweeted, followed by two angry emojis.
As it turned out, the flight was merely delayed and departed at 5am and was scheduled to land at 11.50am in Dubai.
Emirates are scheduled to suspend all passenger flights as of Wednesday‚ which means the last Johannesburg-bound flight will leave Dubai at 11.25pm on Tuesday.
Ramaphosa said on Monday night that the National Command Council on coronavirus advised him that the lockdown was necessary to contain the spread of the global pandemic.
South Africans would have to “stay at home” until midnight on April 16.
Ramaphosa said only essential-services personnel would be exempted‚ including police‚ health-care workers and those involved in the supply of goods‚ including food.
Emirates put out a statement on the airline’s website about the cancelled flights.
“As per the UAE government’s directive‚ Emirates will temporarily suspend all passenger services from 25 March 2020. We are very sorry for any inconvenience caused to our customers and travellers. These measures are in place to contain the spread of Covid-19‚ and we hope to resume services as soon as feasible‚” read the statement.
Vermeulen‚ who will join the Bulls later this year, was in SA three weeks ago after the Japan Top League was suspended but was ordered to return by his club, Kubota Spears.
With the league now cancelled, South Africans playing for clubs in the league are free to return home.