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Omicron variant complicates travel home for Canadian ultrarunners in South Africa

Canadian ultrarunners Remi Poitras and Jean-Francois Cauchon both finished in the top 25 at the Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100K in South Africa

Photo by: Photo: UTCT

Running 100 kilometres was something Remi Poitras always wanted to accomplish, so when he had the chance to compete at the Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100K last weekend in South Africa, he could not pass up the opportunity. Poitras finished 26th out of the 237 runners who started the race, in 13:26:56. Although he had a great result in his 100K debut, the toughest part for Poitras has been trying to get home.

The start of the Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100K. Photo: UTCT

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Poitras, a Moncton, N.B., native, always wanted to visit Cape Town to race internationally, but when he found out that international borders were closed to tourists due to the discovery of the Omicron variant, he was stuck in South Africa with fellow Canadian ultrarunner Jean-François Cauchon, who finished sixth overall at UTCT, seeking answers. “In Cape Town, I didn’t notice anything out of the usual regulations we had in Canada,” Poitras says. “Locals were more concerned about the closures of the tourism industry.”

Suthers Peak overlooking Cape Town, South Africa Photo: Remi Poitras

Since there are no direct flights to Canada from South Africa, there are only a few ways to travel. One option is to travel through Europe, but many major airlines such as Air France and KLM have stated that they will carry EU passengers only. The only city in North America that connects with Johannesburg is Atlanta, Ga., but again, U.S. citizens only. Another option to get back to Canada is to fly through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a country currently dealing with a civil war between the government and rebel groups.

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Flights out of South Africa have reached high prices for tourists, and the airports are packed with tourists from Europe and North America looking to get home. “I tried connecting with the Canadians Abroad emergency hotline to see what they know and what they could do,” says Poitras. “After six days of no news or communication from the Canadian government, I decided to take matters into my own hands and book a flight to London.”

Lion’s Head peaks at sunrise in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Remi Poitras

Both Canada and Great Britain require a negative PCR Covid-19 test upon entry. “Keeping us all here is only prolonging our exposure,” says Poitras. “Everyone is scrambling trying to find a way home, the government isn’t helping us.”

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Update: On Dec. 2, Cauchon and Poitras left South Africa on a flight to London, U.K., where they both await the results of their PCR tests to return to Canada. Poitras looks back on his first ultra-trail race as an amazing experience and hopes to conquer more ultras in 2022.