COVID-19 Repatriation Stories: Singapore to Mauritius, South Africa & Zagreb

Total Croatia News

April 13, 2020 – With the sudden lockdowns and flight restrictions last month, there were many desperate COVID-19 repatriation attempts. Read how Bojan Mirkovic’s idyllic 3-week African holiday from Singapore turned into a very different 3-week African experience ending in an unexpected return to his homeland. 

From the TCN inbox on Easter Sunday.

My name is Bojan Mirkovic and I am from Croatia. My wife is from Ukraine and we live and work in Singapore for the last 5 years. In March we left for three weeks to travel around Africa.
It is quite a story to tell! Let me share it with you…

Spring break is a time of the year when we choose to travel to destinations at the top of our bucket list. For Spring break 2020 plan was to visit the African continent finally. Our three-week itinerary originally was:
Singapore ➡️ Mauritius ➡️ South Africa (Cape Town) ➡️ Namibia ➡️ Zambia ➡️ Botswana ➡️ Zimbabwe ➡️South Africa (Johannesburg) ➡️ Singapore.
I spent at least a hundred hours last November by computer to properly plan this entire trip, choose destinations, make all the visas and book all the flights, hotels, rent-a-cars, day trips…(I considered it more like a project than a trip). ?

By the time we are heading to Mauritius, the situation with COVID-19 in Singapore was stable, and life went on as usual. Also, at that time, there was no Coronavirus in the Southern part of the African continent at all. All the countries we were planning to visit had zero cases. Africa seemed to be spared by this enemy.

Of course, we were all the time closely monitoring what was going on with the virus in our home countries, in Europe in general,  and other parts of the world where numbers of confirmed cases were growing rapidly. So we made plan B…and C…just in case something went wrong.

We landed safely in Mauritius, enjoyed exploring a paradise island, and really had a blast on gorgeous beaches and resorts around the country. After a couple of days, the situation started changing fast. The virus came to the island. Apparently, two tourists that came from the last cruise ship had no symptoms but were carrying the virus. They spread it to their local tour guy, who went to a local funeral….numbers started growing fast, and the country went into lockdown. ??? 

We wanted to come back immediately to Singapore and cancel the rest of our African adventure. But that wasn’t possible anymore. At the same time, the situation with COVID-19 in Singapore wasn’t stable anymore. There was a spike, and everything changed, so the government implemented a lot of new measures to fight the spread of the virus. One of those was that all foreigners returning to Singapore must get approval first from the Ministry of Manpower before returning. We immediately started working on it and submitted all the forms. But our approval was rejected. Too many people were trying to get back. We kept trying….did it all over again every single day, wrote to the Ministry of Manpower, tried with the appeal as well. But no – it was still rejected.

Meanwhile, we managed to leave Mauritius with the last possible flight! The government was shutting down not just restaurants, bars, and hotels, but the airport as well! The destination was Cape Town. And it seemed great. Anyway, we had visas, booked accommodation, life there was going normal, and it was still a period before the crisis. Just like on Mauritius the week before, we had a couple of days to enjoy the new destination. Great city, a lot of things to see and do, perfect weather, great restaurants….all good…we had time to go to the Cape of Good Hope, spend some time with African penguins, explore the city,…but then, the president announced lockdown of South Africa for three weeks and gave people two days to prepare for it! Again, restaurants, bars, hotels, airports, everything – shutting down. Only pharmacies and supermarkets would remain open. 

Meanwhile, all these days, we constantly kept applying to get approval to come back to Singapore.

It took a lot of time, money, and effort but again we made new plans for leaving Africa. We even had three plane tickets at the same moment!

The first one – to return to Singapore just before the South African lockdown with Singapore Airlines. It didn’t work. Every time our approval from the Ministry was rejected, and we were not allowed to board the plane.

Second – we also had a ticket to go to Windhoek, Namibia, as part of our original itinerary. It was just before the lockdown of South Africa… But we were not able to board that flight either. Why? Namibia, that same day went to lockdown as well!

The third ticket was – to Zagreb, Croatia. The situation there at that time was chaotic. In addition to the fight with Coronavirus, my hometown was hit by several strong earthquakes! As we had no option, we decided to fly to Croatia. 

The journey was supposed to start on March 24th from Cape Town via Dubai and then later to the final destination – Zagreb with Emirates. And that was fine. But…… the second flight, Dubai – Zagreb, was happening after midnight (‪5 am‬) on 25th March. Why was that a problem? Because the United Arab Emirates announced that starting from 25th March, there would be no single flight from UAE. All Emirates, Etihad, Fly Dubai flights would not happen anymore. When we were buying tickets on the Emirates website, both flights were still in the system anyway. As it was chaos and thousands of tourists tried to ”escape” from South Africa after they heard for upcoming lockdown – we called the Emirates office just to confirm. They told us – all good, you can fly.  But when you come to the airport, guess what – you cant board that flight either. If we boarded the flight Cape Town – Dubai, we would have another ”Tom Hanks situation” and got stuck on some Terminal in Dubai airport. Entering UAE was not allowed either. 

So, between choosing to get stuck in Namibia, Dubai airport, or South Africa – we decided to stay in lovely Cape Town. We love the city. ???

Lockdown started. Luckily, we had fantastic accommodation – a beautiful villa with a nice backyard, swimming pool, excellent breakfast, and situated in the best part of the city. We chose this over any hotel as we wanted to stay at some nice and clean place with fewer tourists to reduce the risk of getting a virus. So we were ready to pay more for it. When we were booking it, we had no idea it was going to be for so many nights. The owners reduced the price as they knew we had no choice and what the situation was. In such a lovely place, days were passing fast and we had a great time. Many people told us that this country is not a safe place and that due to lockdown and events from the past, we can expect anything. Several of them stated that it would be a great thing to get a gun as we could expect many robberies and riots when people in the slums become hungry and desperate! It was actually the opposite; we felt safe and sound during our entire stay.

When the South African president announced lockdown, we contacted the Croatian embassy to register there so they knew that we were in SA, on which address exactly and to leave contact details in case something went wrong. The embassy in Pretoria was very responsive and helpful, we were in contact every single day. Meanwhile, the South African and German governments concluded an agreement about COVID-19 repatriation flights for German tourists and other European Union citizens. Thanks to the Croatian embassy, a few days later, on the 13th day of lockdown, we found our seats on a flight to Frankfurt! After three weeks in total in Africa, we were now in Europe. From Frankfurt, we took the only flight left operating to Croatia! This entire trip with the COVID-19 repatriation flight is an interesting separate story in itself, but about that some other time. This one is already long enough for Easter morning. ??

So here we are now – after a lockdown in Mauritius, lockdown in South Africa, we are doing a two-week self-isolation in Croatia. ?

We wanted three weeks in Africa – we got three weeks in Africa! (Be careful what you wish for)!?

I haven’t been home for the last five years, so after all of this, I am still smiling and feeling great! It was a trip we for sure will never forget!

Also, during the entire trip, we were 100% healthy. We are having 36.6 ? , feeling great with no single symptoms ? Hope it stays that way ?

Happy Easter!?❤️ Stay healthy.

Thanks Bojan – great story!
Do you have a corona repatriation story you would like to share on TCN? Contact us on [email protected] Subject Repatriation.


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