British and American nationals traveling abroad find it difficult to return home as airlines suspend flights and airports close without notice to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The British Department of Foreign Affairs (FCO) advised all British tourists on Monday to return to the UK, where commercial flights are available. However, travelers have warned that flights are unavailable, routed through airports that are expected to close, or, in some cases, at the cost of tens of thousands of pounds.
Caroline Nokes, a former cabinet minister, warned on Tuesday that British nationals were facing a “dire” situation and, in some cases, “no return routes”. Government officials have said that repatriation flights will only be organized in “exceptional circumstances”.
Dominic Raab, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the FCO is working with airlines and their foreign counterparts to “overcome obstacles” as countries close their borders. He said flights for those stuck in Peru will be on government-chartered flights later this week.
He added that Singapore had agreed to act as a hub for those trying to leave New Zealand and Australia. NHS doctors and nurses working or traveling there have requested additional assistance to return to the UK to serve on the front line in the fight against the virus.
Sophy Buckley, whose 19-year-old daughter was hiking in Peru and still awaiting a seat on a return flight, said she was still concerned about any British national who exhibits symptoms of the virus.
“Youth hostels will drive the British out, so where would they go and who would help them get better?” she asked. “We cannot leave anyone behind. Isolated areas or separate planes are essential. “
Foreign ministry officials said citizens should follow the medical advice of the country they are in, but that “tailor-made flights for the sick” had already been arranged.
A senior State Department official told reporters that the United States is also working around the clock to bring citizens stranded abroad by the sudden cut in commercial flights.
The American official said that Americans abroad should “determine if this is a place where you would be willing to bend for an indefinite period”.
The official said that 13,500 out of 10 million Americans living abroad have so far asked for help to return home, in addition to the 5,700 that the State Department has already brought back from 17 countries, including 800 from Wuhan at the start of the crisis and 1,200 from Morocco the last time. the week.
The State Department is planning 16 flights around the world to bring back 1,600 US citizens in the next five days, chartering commercial flights, calling on the Department of Homeland Security to board flights that would otherwise be more commonly used for evictions and work. with the US military.
The Peace Corps, a volunteer program of the American government, also hastened to repatriate the 7,300 volunteers from more than 60 countries following the decision taken on March 15 by Jody Olsen, the director of the organization, to suspend its operations in the whole world.
A senior Peace Corps official in Africa, where the organization has 3,000 volunteers, said on Monday evening that the evacuation had been completed for all volunteers in the region, but that it had been a huge logistical challenge to bring the people on planes, often from remote villages around. the continent.
Meanwhile, the British government is rushing to set up additional flights to evacuate stranded vacationers to Kenya before a midnight Wednesday deadline to stop international flights as the East African hub seeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
British High Commissioner Jane Marriott told the Financial Times that she is in talks with the Kenyan government, Kenya Airways and British Airways for additional flights, including some after the deadline has passed in order to evacuate “hundreds “persons” of British nationals who wish to return and certain dependents of British personnel.
British officials still disagreed on the desirability of forcibly evacuating dependents of British personnel, which would mean separating the families of diplomats. The children and some partners could be sent back to the UK, where many are homeless, at a time when the coronavirus is threatening to overwhelm hospital infrastructure.
A senior British official said that many British staff members “panicked” about the proposed compulsory evacuation and did not want their family members to return to the United Kingdom, where the spread of the coronavirus is more advanced than Kenya.
British officials are concerned, however, that Kenya’s health infrastructure is overwhelmed by the crisis, causing fears of civil unrest and violent crimes that have sometimes affected the country in the past. It is believed that more than 20,000 British nationals live in Kenya, but only a few hundred vacationers want to return home.