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A woman waits with her purchases next to a wall spray painted with the word 'Apocalypse' in Spanish. Lima, Peru. AP/PA Images

Irish citizen stranded in Peru: 'We'll figure out how to get the money for flights home'

The Irish government is gauging interest from the estimated 100 Irish people on who want to fly home this weekend.

IRISH CITIZENS WHO are stranded in Peru have been highlighting their difficult situation as they wait to see whether they can board what is currently the only flight out of the country until 1 April, at the very earliest. 

The UK and Irish governments are working with airlines to try to organise a flight home for Irish citizens who are stranded there. These flights haven’t yet been confirmed – at the moment the UK and Ireland are simply gauging interest.

Peru, which has 234 reported cases of coronavirus, has had a 15-day military lockdown in place since Monday, and blocked all travel by air, sea or land. A nighttime curfew from 8pm-5am has been in place to try to prevent the virus from spreading.

Because of this, flights have been cancelled until 1 April at the earliest – but Irish people trying to rebook their flights have reported that a flight in mid-April has been cancelled, and that there are no flights available to book for the next two months.

It’s estimated that are at least 35 Irish people in Cusco alone, with a possible 100 others elsewhere in Peru.

Catherine arrived in Peru on 7 February with her boyfriend, and had been travelling around the country. They kept informed with coronavirus news updates, and monitored the Covid-19 situation as it escalated in Europe, while the number of cases in South America stayed relatively low.

As soon as they heard flights into the EU would be banned for 30 days, they booked a flight home – separate to their original flight back at the end of their trip.

“That was quite a lot of money,” Catherine said. Their plan had been to get a flight from Cusco to Lima, and from Lima to Bogota in Colombia, and from Bogota to London.

“The day we were going to the airport to board our first flight on the journey home, and as we were getting to the airport to border first flight, I checked on my Avianca app, and our second flight had been cancelled. And then we got the news that the country was going into total lockdown at 12 o’clock that night.”

She said that there was no email from the airline to say that their flight was cancelled, or that there had been a military lockdown imposed.

We went to the airport on Monday. You couldn’t enter the airport unless your flight was flying in the next two hours, so you couldn’t go into find any information from your airlines, and all the phone numbers were down because there were so so many people ringing.

It’s difficult to keep up with the latest updates in Peru, because a lot of news articles are published all claiming one thing, and, as Catherine says, “the government then releases a statement saying that it’s fake news, so it can be quite confusing”.

The offer of an Avianca flight out of the country has been now offered, but a certain amount of people need to express interest for that flight to go ahead. The tickets are going to cost between €2,700-€3,200, and won’t be paid for by the Irish government.

Catherine says that this price set by the airline is high, but stresses that they are “really aware that the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy are doing the best they can”.

We’re not trying to sound ungrateful, we just want something to happen,” she says.

Two other Irish citizens, Andrew Cotter and Marie Barry from Cork, said that Israelis have been given three chartered flights home for free from their government (these are understood to be Israeli civil servants).

Air France offered a flight back to Paris for €700 per person, Marie said, adding that “a lot of Irish people can’t afford the $3,500 price tag (€3,200) for a ticket to London.

“It would cost $3,500 per person. A huge amount of money. We wondered how we would even get to the airport if we were lucky enough to get a seat on the plane, as there’s no transport and we aren’t even allowed out.”

If this flight doesn’t go ahead, a number of alternatives are possible – citizens are being asked to fill out a form expressing interest in those flights where possible. 

Catherine said: “Of course we filled out that form and between friends and family, we’ll figure out how to get the money, because the situation is so unpredictable. You don’t know how long the country is going to be in lockdown for.”

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