Stranded medics return to UK from South Africa

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Image source, Lisa Freeth
Image caption,
Lisa Freeth and Dr Helena Edwards were on holiday in South Africa when the new variant was discovered

Two healthcare professionals who were left stranded in South Africa due to the Omicron variant have arrived back in the UK.

Lisa Freeth was set to depart Johannesburg on Saturday with fellow Briton Dr Helena Edwards when they were informed their flight was only allowing EU citizens to board.

Both women are now in quarantine after arriving at Heathrow on Thursday.

Ms Freeth said they were "relieved" to be back in the UK.

The Foreign Office said it would "continue to offer tailored consular assistance to British nationals overseas in need".

The British government suspended flights from South Africa due to the heavily mutated strain of Covid-19, with those returning required to quarantine for 10 days.

Ms Freeth, a physiotherapist from Solihull, West Midlands, said she and Dr Edwards, from Portsmouth's Queen Alexandra Hospital, said they had spent days trying to find another way home.

Following their initial cancelled flight, they booked into a hotel within six miles (10km) of Johannesburg Airport and were self-isolating in a bid to reduce the risk of not being able to get back when a flight became available.

Image source, Lisa Freeth
Image caption,
The pair are quarantining in a hotel near Heathrow after arriving back on Thursday

They said they struggled to get a flight that would then match with an available quarantine hotel when they arrived, but managed to secure what they were told were the "final" two tickets on a plane on Thursday.

However, Ms Freeth said, the flight was "barely full" which they found "frustrating" given the number of people they knew of struggling to get home.

While Dr Edwards is not due to start a new position until January, Ms Freeth said she was meant to have been back at work on Monday and may have to take unpaid leave to cover her further absence.

She said her laptop was being couriered to the hotel so she could work while under quarantine.

"Overall we are pleased to be back, but we're not home... it feels very far from that, Ms Freeth said.

"All being well... we will be fit for release on midnight of 12 December."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it had always been clear that no travel was without risks, and that it would respond rapidly if risks from any country increase.

It added commercial routes that enable British and Irish nationals and residents to return continue to operate.

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