Over 1000 South Africans are stranded in various countries around the world, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said on Tuesday.
"The most recent data that we have suggests that we may have 1 471 South Africans stranded across the world. Of this number, 723 are students, 204 people who are workers, 224 tourists, 320 who haven't disclosed. I cannot say that these numbers are 100 % accurate as it is based on people who have approached us for assistance through our missions and consular services," said the Minister.
The Minister made these remarks at a briefing held at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) in Pretoria.
The Minister's comments came as South Africa entered the fifth day of a 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
In response to the pandemic, South African Airways (SAA) has suspended all domestic, regional and international flights.
The lockdown which got underway at midnight on Thursday, is aimed at curbing the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) which to date, has seen South Africa record over 1000 positive cases.
As a result of the lockdown which is being enforced not only in South Africa but in other parts of the world, many travellers across the world are finding themselves stranded in foreign countries, including South Africans.
"We empathise with their plight and are doing whatever is within our means to assist them to be safe, as comfortable as possible and to travel back to South Africa," said the Minister.
She further added that there may be more people in need of assistance that the department does not yet know about.
The Minister urged those who are not able to make contact with missions abroad to contact the department's 24-hour Command Centre on +27 12 351 1754 and +27 12 351 1756. Emails may be sent to : Cicc1@dirco.gov.za and Cicc2@dirco.gov.za.
In terms of the assistance Dirco is providing to stranded South Africans, Pandor has directed that priority be given to those who are stranded at airports, those who are running out of accommodation, the elderly and the sick.
In addition, South African missions abroad will continue to render consular services, including negotiating with the governments where there are lockdowns in order to facilitate the movement of stranded South Africans.
"Given the difficulties associated with travel restrictions we appeal to those who can afford to return to do so at their own cost. Some have started organising themselves into groups and have approached the department to ensure their safe passage home. Others are students whose accommodation in crowded dormitories forced them to come home," she said.
In addition, some South Africans have explored options such as arranging private charter flights back to South Africa.
This can be done in cooperation with their travel insurance companies, their sponsors or in groups with other citizens in the same country.
"In such cases, we have requested our missions to assist with obtaining flight clearances for chartered flights in the host countries and to get permission to depart on such chartered flight."
Meanwhile, some citizens have indicated that they are able to bring themselves home. In such cases, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) will facilitate with logistics and consular services to enable them to travel back safely.
In the same breath, Dirco will be liaising with families and friends in South Africa to contribute to the payment for accommodation for those who cannot depart.
Such funds can be transferred by Western Union or MoneyGram, commercial banks or via international EFT directly to the account of the institutions.
"For the rest of the South Africans who might not be stranded or distressed, we have advised that they remain where they are to reduce movement until the end of the lockdown. We also make a special appeal that they observe all the rules and regulations put in place by the authorities of the countries where they are in, as these are meant to curb the spread of this COVID-19 virus," she said.
Also speaking at the same briefing, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula emphasised that all international and domestic passenger flights are still prohibited under the 21-day national lockdown.
Mbalula also detailed arrangements on the evacuation of foreign nationals from South Africa.
Minister Mbalula said the repatriation of foreign nationals will be made under the following regulations:
Foreign countries must charter their aircraft to South Africa without passengers except with the crew.
The crew is not allowed to disembark.
Meanwhile, the Minister said the evacuation of South African citizens is allowed provided that:
He or she has a fully paid return flight ticket
On arrival they will be subjected to mandatory quarantine for a period of up to 21 days
The crew shall be allowed to disembark subject to mandatory quarantine laws as may be applicable.
The following technical flights are allowed:
Medical evacuation flights
Aircraft in a state of emergency
Technical landings for refuelling
Aircraft operations related to humanitarian aid, relief flights and other safety related operations
Mbalula said medical evacuation flights should not carry passengers except patients and crew that will upon landing be subjected to mandatory quarantine laws as may be applicable.
Technical landing flights are allowed on condition that no passenger may disembark.
In addition, the following airports should have standby operational staff who will receive aircraft that are in distress.
Kruger in Mpumalanga
Mbalula added that air transportation of all cargo - essential and non-essential - is permitted.
Disembarkation of Flight Cargo Crew is permitted on condition that it will be subjected to quarantine laws applicable in South Africa.
Pandor has tasked missions to also determine from host countries, whether authorities can offer any assistance to foreigners stranded in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes for example, the issuing / extension of visas.
"I must take this opportunity to thank all the countries that have assisted in this regard not with only consular services but also have donated both financially as well as with other resources necessary to fight the spread of this virus."
Meanwhile, Consular Services Unit is monitoring calls of stranded South Africans daily to ensure that they are informed all the time.