Canadian field hockey players stuck in South Africa due to COVID-19 travel restrictions are set to finally depart on Dec. 8 after receiving a travel exemption from the Canadian government.
The federal government posted the exemption on its website on Saturday, while parents of the players were also notified.
“I am beyond relief that it looks like there is a way for them to get home,” said Sue Goddard from Vancouver. She is the mother of two players on the team: Nora Goddard-Despot, 20, and Arden Goddard-Despot, 18.
The team had been stuck in Potchefstroom, about 120 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg, because of shifting COVID-19 travel restrictions put in place late last month following the discovery of the omicron coronavirus variant.
The junior national women’s team was to participate in the Junior World Cup from Dec. 5-17. It was cancelled and the suspension of most commercial flights meant the 21 players, five coaches plus managers and support staff had no way home.
Field Hockey Canada had already booked a flight out of Johannesburg, transiting through Germany, before the exemption came. Originally, the governing body said the team would not be able to board the plane because Canada required a negative PCR test in a third country.
The temporary exemption says travellers must obtain a pre-departure negative COVID-19 molecular test from an accredited South African laboratory 48 hours before departure; fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to the German city of Frankfurt on a Lufthansa flight; and transit through Frankfurt airport to travel on a direct Lufthansa or Air Canada flight to Canada.
Goddard said the tests are being secured and that the team will fly through Frankfurt to Toronto. Western-based players will then fly home through Calgary. She plans to see her daughters at the Vancouver International Airport on the evening of Dec. 9.
Goddard said on that, prior to the temporary exemption, her daughters were crestfallen and worried they wouldn’t be home in time for Christmas.
Their moods have now changed, said Goddard.
“Super excited they were coming back home, relieved and grateful for all the work everyone had put in to make it happens and feeling really positive,” she said.