It has been among golfer’s, professional athlete’s and the general public’s worst nightmares during the COVID-19 pandemic: travelling to a far-off place and not being able to get home. That hit home on Friday for the pros playing in the Joburg Open in South Africa.

The Associated Press in Johannesburg reported that more than a dozen players from Britain and Ireland pulled out of the season-opening tournament for the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) after the UK government announced it was banning flights from South Africa to prevent the spread of a new COVID-19 variant.

The AP said the UK announced it was suspending flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries and making travellers from these countries self-isolate for 10 days effective from noon yesterday. From Sunday morning, travellers would have to go into hotel quarantine.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were concerns the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the delta strain, and “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective” against it.

Also, the European Union said Friday it plans to stop air travel from southern Africa because of the variant as the 27-nation group is seeing a large spike in cases.

“Bit of a minefield at the minute,” Irish golfer Paul Dunne told RTE radio. He had finished the delayed first round on Friday, withdrew and then planned to take a flight to Dubai.

“I’d three holes to finish in my first round, and when I came in I turned my phone on and I had messages from everyone asking me if I was going to go to the airport or stay and play. That’s when I started to look into it,” Dunne told the radio show.

“A few people are on the course without kind of a real idea of what’s going on,” Dunne said. “But some people are finding it hard. I’ve heard people can’t get a flight until Sunday evening.”

South African Thirston Lawrence scored back-to-back 65s to take the clubhouse lead before second-round play was suspended for the day. Englishman Ashley Chesters (66-69) was five shots behind and had reportedly decided to stay and play.

PHOTO: Stuart Franklin