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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 27 May, 2020
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Stranded in Peru: Irish citizens struggling to get home are offered London flights costing €3,000

It’s thought that there are at least 30 Irish tourists stranded in Peru after a sudden 15-day lockdown was announced.

An armored vehicle guards an intersection on Abancay avenue, after the government implemented restrictions to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Lima, Peru.
An armored vehicle guards an intersection on Abancay avenue, after the government implemented restrictions to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Lima, Peru.
Image: Rodrigo Abd/PA

A NUMBER OF Irish citizens have been stranded abroad as countries around the world take extraordinary measures to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. 

Irish citizens have contacted TheJournal.ie from countries including Egypt, Morocco and the US to highlight their difficulty in getting home.

In order to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, countries have imposed strict border controls, and introduced restrictions to limit people’s movements.

In Peru, the situation is particularly pronounced: the government on Sunday announced a 15-day military lockdown to be imposed on Monday – with all land, sea and air borders to close. A nighttime curfew is also in place from 8pm-5am.

This gave very little time for the estimated 30 Irish tourists in Peru to fly home.

There are currently 155 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Peru, compared with 366 in Ireland, which hasn’t imposed the same strict measures in response to the pandemic. So for tourists who had been travelling in the country, the announcement wasn’t expected.

It’s understood that flights from Lima are being suggested by the British and Irish governments, but could cost up to $3,500 (or €3,200), which many tourists cannot afford.

The email from the Department of Foreign Affairs, forwarded on by a number of stranded tourists in Peru, offers flights with Avianca Airlines, a Colombian carrier:

We understand that Avianca are considering putting in place a charter from Lima to London this weekend for stranded tourists. They will also put in place a connecting flight from Cusco to Lima to connect with this London flight. They say they can only commit to this charter once they know that there is sufficient demand.
The price range is likely to be USD$3,000 – $3,500 one way economy class (business class also available @ USD$7,500). We are told this price range reflects the cost of bringing a sufficiently large plane (capacity: 250 pax) to Peru, a connecting smaller flight from Cusco, and what is involved in negotiating permissions from the authorities.

A number of Irish tourists in Peru have been in touch with TheJournal.ie about this, including James and Ciara McNicholl, who had been on a tour of South America since January for their honeymoon.

At 8pm on Sunday, the Peruvian government announced that all air, sea and land borders would close on Monday, making it practically impossible to leave the country before the restrictions were put in place.

There is a military lockdown, a nighttime curfew, and no flights until 1 April. James says that the biggest issue is that Peru seemed to be the only Latin American country that didn’t give visitors a chance to leave before the lockdown:

The biggest issue was people weren’t given a chance to just buy flights and get out. If we had been given that chance you wouldn’t have this huge amount of people isolated here and stuck here.

He and his wife Ciara had packed their bags and headed to the airport on Monday after the announcement -  but they were only allowing people who had bookings into the airport. They pleaded their case, and eventually were allowed in.

“We waited in a queue for about 2-3 hours, and eventually managed to book a flight for the 1st April, a severely inflated price. We paid over €3,000 for the two of us.”

The 1 April is the day after the lockdown lifts, but they are now increasingly worried that the lockdown will be extended, and those flights will also be cancelled. 

They’re also worried for the other Irish and British tourists in Peru, of whom there are around 400, who wouldn’t be able to afford such expensive tickets home.

There’s many people here who are not in that position – I would say at least two thirds of that 400 people. You’ve got retired people who are on a holiday, you’ve got young people who have just graduated from university that are on a shoestring budget.
€3,000 is what some people have budgeted for their entire trip, so they may not able to get home.

He said that there are German and French nationals who have been offered flights home for €700-€800, suggesting that it might be possible to fly people out of Peru for less than €3,000.

When asked how he and his wife are feeling about being stranded in Peru, James says there’s “a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of uncertainty, I think it’s definitely scary”.

“There’s not a lot of people moving around, you can feel the police presence, if you do go to the shop. There’s a huge amount of uncertainty. Even this flight isn’t certain.”

If you’re out on the streets, and you’re approached by police officers, you have to explain where you’re going, where your apartment is and why you’re in the place you’re in.

We’ve got elderly family at home that we are concerned about – my parents live in Donegal, and they’re isolated. Ciara’s parents are of a certain age that they’re in the high risk category – her father’s just come out of hospital after having a knee replacement.

“So, obviously we don’t want to be here we want to be home with their family. After our quarantine period and our isolation, we want to be able to assist them.”

James added that they would be both interested in volunteering to help the healthcare service when they return.

Other countries

There are various complications faced by Irish people abroad: airlines are difficult to contact because of the volume of calls being made, and there have been some difficulties in implementing the Department of Foreign Affairs’ advice as the situation differs greatly from country-to-country.

In Morocco, one man’s flight from Agadir was cancelled this week, ahead of the country’s borders being shut tomorrow. He says he wasn’t told why his flight was cancelled the morning it was due to depart.

When he tried to contact other airlines to arrange for an alternative flight home, he said they had difficulty contacting them because of the volume of calls. 

He has since organised a flight to London, which was rebooked from their original flight, and after he had spent close to £200 on calls to various airlines and travel agents. 

An Irish tourist in Egypt had said that his flight home tomorrow had been cancelled until 31 March, adding that their airline was difficult to get in contact with, and that there had been limited Internet access.

“I ended up taking a 12 hour ferry and a six-hour taxi which got us to Cairo 10 minutes before our check in gate closed,” he said. “From there, we flew to Frankfurt and are currently on the way home.”

Another woman who was flying home from Orlando in the US earlier in the week, said that she was given “confusing” mixed messages as to whether her flight would continue as scheduled.

After submitting a number of queries and with less than 24 hours notice, she was told her flight would not go ahead as planned, and was advised to book a new flight – which she did. She said that for her “it was a happy ending”.

“…But there remained many at the airport in Orlando, hoping for success with a standby seat but who ultimately were unable to leave for Ireland as the aircraft was completely full.”

Meanwhile, RTÉ has reported that the Department of Foreign Affairs has urged all Irish tourists in Spain to travel home by this Saturday. 

In response to questions from TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said:

“The Department is closely monitoring the situation on the ground across all world regions through our Embassies and Consulates. We are aware of Irish citizens in difficulty in a number of countries around the world due to increasing restrictions on international travel.

“We are engaging with local authorities, our EU colleagues and international partners to ensure that all possible support is provided to Irish citizens overseas in these circumstances.

“We continue to advise all Irish citizens against any non-essential travel overseas.

“For Irish citizens looking for assistance, we recommend calling our COVID-19 phone line, +353 (0) 1 6131733, or chatting with our web team at https://dfa.ie/travel/contact/.

“We also recommend continuing to monitor our coronavirus website, and social media updates from @dfatirl, @dfatravelwise, and the account from their nearest embassy or consulate.”

If you want to share your story of travelling home to Ireland amid Covid-19 restrictions, email them to us at: grainne@thejournal.ie 

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