Columbus family almost stuck in South Africa after travel restrictions with new COVID variant

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 6:04 PM EST
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - One Columbus family almost found themselves stranded in South Africa after travel restrictions came down in the wake of a new COVID-19 variant, omicron.

The Immelmans tell News Leader 9 that they were on the last flight back into the U.S. right before travel was restricted to the country. After roughly 35 hours of travel and the uncertainty of if or when they would get home, Mark and Tracy Immelman say they almost got locked out of the United States.

“We were over in South Africa with family and friends,” said Mark Immelman. “Travel back was planned, everything was ok and all of a sudden that was nearly snatched away from us and we were lucky to be able to get back.”

”We heard there was going to be a fourth wave of COVID in December so we decided lets go in November and avoid any travel bans. That’s how it started,” Tracy Immerlan said.

But how well-thought out plans often do - things didn’t work out how they hoped. News broke of a new COVID-19 variant, omicron and President Joe Biden put a travel ban in place and they found themselves, like many other holiday travelers in other African nations, scrambling to get back home.

“Because the scheduled flight that we’d always been on was suddenly the last flight out. So that became stressful,” said Tracy. “We had such a hard turn around. We had about 45 minutes to make the international flight. We left our bags. We didn’t even wait for them.”

Not to mention, the couple’s two kids, ages 10 and 14, were traveling with them in the midst of what they describe as chaos. The Immelmans message to everyone, regardless of where you find yourself this year, is to be thankful if you get to spend it with the ones you love.

”And once we were on the plane, especially with my youngest, you could see her sort of go, ‘Alright, we’re ok now’“, said Mark. “And so everyday is a blessing and you need to view it as such because we can get wrapped up in the humdrum of the Christmas holidays and I haven’t done this and I should be speaking to this person, really you just got to enjoy your time with loved ones and be thankful for each day.”

According to the White House, the travel restriction to South Africa and seven other countries President Biden has in place will be assessed on a week by week basis. The decision comes as the U.S. government hopes to learn more about the omicron COVID-19 variant.

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