The mother of an Irish woman stranded in South Africa has told Newstalk about her frantic efforts to bring her daughter home as nations shut their borders because of the new Omicron variant.
Sophie Sweeney flew to South Africa on Wednesday for a wedding and was due to return home the following week.
However, on Thursday a notification flashed up on her phone about the new variant. Sophie screenshotted it and sent it with a message, “Mum, don’t be cross but I need your help”, to her mother, Joanne.
Ever since then, the pair have been in a race against time to try and get Sophie home.
“Every hour it [the news] was changing,” Ms Sweeney told The Anton Savage Show.
“And so we tried to put a plan in place. Plan A was to get her home early, change her flight. That was scuppered by Air France cancelling her flight with no option to rebook.
“Plan B was to get home early and take another route out and try and find a country that hadn’t closed its borders.
“Ethiopia was coming up with frequent options on Skyscanner. But we’ve had a very deteriorating diplomatic situation this week with Ethiopia. So in my own, adult advice to my daughter, I said, ‘Perhaps, don’t go through Ethiopia.’
“So then yesterday evening she found a flight next Thursday via Istanbul and then back into Ireland. But the concern is, a lot happens even in a single 24 hours, never mind five days.
“And listen we appreciate the concern of the new variant, any mandatory quarantine that she’d have to do, that’s absolutely fine, public health is paramount.
“But I really want to get her home and she wants to come home. She’s freaking out about it at this stage.”
Listen and subscribe to The Anton Savage Show on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Ms Sweeney says that her daughter has not received much in the way of consular assistance - having simply been advised by the Irish Embassy to try and book another flight.
Concerned Irish citizens travelling in South Africa can make direct contact with Embassy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and should register on the citizens’ register 👉🏻 https://t.co/ctVeqruPQe #Omicron @dfatravelwise
— Fionnuala Gilsenan (@FGilsenanIRL) November 27, 2021
Ms Sweeney says her daughter is currently, “stressed out but she would rely on my positivity and action taking to keep her spirits up. She is staying with a work colleague… so she’s not in a hotel, so she’s in that bubble.
“And they also had their flights cancelled too. So from that point of view she’s not alone, she’s with two other people. But kind of thinking ahead, I just don’t know where the next turn is going to be.”
She hopes that the Irish Embassy in South Africa will have more advice on repatriation for them in the coming days.
Minister Eamon Ryan has since said that the Government is considering sending a private jet to bring Irish citizens home:
“We have to be careful because we don’t want large numbers of people coming back,” Minister Ryan told Newstalk.
“But an Irish citizen who is there on holidays, or for a funeral or wedding or whatever event, they obviously have to be able to come home.
“There’s very limited flights coming out of South Africa… The Department of Foreign Affairs… [have] done it during this COVID pandemic where we arrange flights to try and bring people home to coordinate and organise that, so that’s one of things that we’re looking at.”
Main image: A plane waits on the tarmac. Picture by: Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images