International flights landed in South Africa on Thursday for the first time in over six months, touching down amid a flurry of celebrations in some airports as coronavirus-linked travel restrictions lifted.
Jets of water were sprayed in an arc to welcome an Emirates flight from Dubai as it touched down in the coastal city of Cape Town.
In the arrivals areas, performers danced and played jolly music as the Emirates crew walked out in a welter of South African flags.
An Ethiopian Airlines flight landed shortly after jetting in from Addis Ababa.
“I am so happy to be back, my life is here,” said Nigerian postgraduate student Destiny Ugo.
The 38-year-old had been stuck abroad since a family visit in April and unable to resume his research at the University of Cape Town.
“I thought I was going to stay (home) for two weeks but I ended up staying for eight months.”
Africa’s most industrialised economy sealed its borders at the start of a strict lockdown in late March to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Restrictions on movement and business have been gradually eased since May, but international borders stayed shut until October 1 to avoid admitting infections from abroad.
German carrier Lufthansa was the first European airline to resume operations into South Africa, with a flight from Frankfurt landing at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo international airport at 8.30 a.m. (0630 GMT).
Planes also flew in from Kenya, Zambia and neighbouring Zimbabwe.
“Lufthansa is delighted to be at the forefront of the resumption of commercial travel into South Africa,” the airline’s southern and East Africa manager, Andre Schulz, said in a statement.
“We look forward to bringing visitors back to South Africa and helping to boost the very important tourism sector.”
– Desperate for visitors –
The travel ban dealt a heavy blow to the tourist industry, which usually employs around 1.5 million people and contributes over 8.5 percent GDP, according to the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA).
The group estimated in July that each day the industry was restrained represented a loss of 748 million rand ($45 million) in tourist expenditure.
More than 600,000 direct jobs have been axed as a result.
TBCSA welcomed what it said was the timely resumption of international travel, hoping this would trigger a “resuscitation” for the tourism sector during the peak December season.
But tourists from more than 50 nations with high infection rates remain banned for the time being, including major sources of foreign visitors such as Britain, Russia and the US.
Those travel restrictions will be reviewed every two weeks.
All other visitors will meanwhile be required to present a negative coronavirus test taken less than 72 hours prior to departure.
They will be screened upon arrival and asked to install a coronavirus tracing app on their mobile phone.
Travellers from all African countries are being admitted for now.
Infections and deaths south of the Sahara have remained low compared to the rest of the world.
South Africa has been relatively hard-hit, with 674,339 infections and 16,734 deaths recorded to date — just under half the total number of cases detected on the continent.