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Canadians stranded in South Africa by COVID-19 could pay $5K for trip home: government

Canadians stranded in South Africa by COVID-19 lockdown
WATCH: Two Canadians are struggling to get out of South Africa and back to Canada.

Shannon Battersby and Paul Hoy, Canadians stranded in South Africa by travel bans designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, were told by the Canadian government that a flight home could cost $5000.

Battersby, from Langham, Sask., went to South Africa to visit her partner’s family. Hoy, from Bowmanville, Ont., went for a modelling contract.

Both scrambled to rebook their flights when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to return home when the novel coronavirus pandemic worsened, but couldn’t find a way out.

“Once we heard Trudeau was telling Canadians to come home, then started the nightmare,” Battersby said, via a Skype call from Standerton, South Africa.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Canada’s COVID-19 death toll surpasses 100

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Battersby and her partner Tim were originally scheduled to return to Canada at the end of March. She tried to find earlier flights after Trudeau’s announcement and finally found one that left a few days earlier.

Hoy was looking, too, and told Global News flights cost more than $2,500.

They both said the messages they received from the airlines were confusing — that is, when they received messages.

“I had been bumped onto a separate airline and I wasn’t provided with this email until two hours after the departure [time],” Hoy said, speaking via Skype from Cape Town.

“I booked through Lufthansa,” Battersby said, “so I tried emailing them.”

“There was no response. At all.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus cases in South Africa top 700 as country prepares for lockdown

Both showed tickets and emails to Global News showing flights had been suddenly cancelled. In Hoy’s case, he only found out his itinerary had been changed after a flight had left.

Eventually they both found flights — Battersby and her partner on the morning of March 27 and Hoy on March 28th. But the South African government imposed a 21-day lockdown, preventing all flights in or out of the country at midnight on the 26th.

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“That night,” said Hoy, “the panic set in.”

Battersby said she then registered with the federal government and reached out to the federal and provincial governments for help. She received automated responses. She said the lack of communication was worrying.

“If we knew we could leave in three weeks, fine. We can live with that,” she said, “but it’s the not knowing”

Then, late Sunday evening in South Africa, Battersby and Hoy heard back from the High Commission of Canada in South Africa.

An email said the government is looking into organizing a flight and “is working towards a departure date … however this will be dependent on obtaining sufficient interested travellers.”

It also said the estimated cost is anticipated to be $5,000 for Canadian citizens and that non-citizens, like Battersby’s partner, who is a permanent resident, would need to pay $6,700.

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READ MORE: Without global action against coronavirus pandemic, 40 million could have died: report

The email also said they needed to respond by 10 a.m. the next morning — giving them less than 12 hours to decide.

Both told Global News they accepted the offer.

Battersby said they were worried “it may be our only chance out,” she said via email when Global News followed up.

“But if we knew we could leave after the lockdown we’d just wait. That’s a lot of money.”

In a statement, Global Affairs Canada told Global News it is aware of Canadians unable to book flights from South Africa due to the “unprecedented crisis” caused by COVID-19.

READ MORE: Edmonton-area couple among Canadians stranded in South Africa amid lockdown

It said Global Affairs “is working closely with the Government of South Africa to organize flights, as well as to clarify procedures and requirements to allow Canadians access to the point of departure.”

The statement also said “[t]he Government of Canada is working with Canadian airlines to ensure that stranded Canadians are offered a reasonable commercial price for their return ticket home,” and that it is working to help as many Canadians as possible, “but some may remain outside of the country for an indeterminate amount of time.”
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Global News has learned there are more than 2,200 Canadians in South Africa registered with the Canadian government. However, there could be more Canadians in the country who aren’t registered.