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Simon Coveney reassures Irish citizens stuck in Peru amid reports that 'all airports to close tonight'

It was hoped that a flight would be organised to get Irish people out of Peru before the lockdown escalates further.

Soldiers wearing protective face masks as a precaution in Lima, Peru.
Soldiers wearing protective face masks as a precaution in Lima, Peru.
Image: AP/PA Images

Updated Mar 21st 2020, 9:43 PM

EFFORTS TO FLY Irish and UK citizens out of Peru have been complicated after the Peruvian government announced that all airports would close from midnight tonight.

In an interview with the Peruvian television channel ‘Canal N’, Defence Minister Walter Martos said that from tonight, Peru’s borders would close completely.

Up until now, the Peruvian authorities had been assisting with repatriation efforts from various countries. 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that they are “aware of announcement of Peruvian authorities in relation to international commercial travel”.

Please be assured that we are working with partners to find the best solutions to get our Irish citizens home. Stay calm and patient and we’ll update people when we can.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has acknowledged that the uncertainty is “hugely frustrating” for those who are stranded, but that it is working with the UK and other European countries to find a solution.

There are around 35 Irish citizens in Cusco, and an estimated 100 others in the rest of the country.  

This evening, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has said that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had secured permission for a UK-organised flight to leave Peru for “early next week” following a call with his Peruvian counterpart.

In a Twitter post, Raab said: “I had a good conversation this afternoon with my opposite number in Peru, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra.

“Amidst all the challenges of tackling Coronavirus, we committed to working together in the coming days to enable UK nationals in Peru and Peruvian nationals in the UK to return home.”

The FCO said it would continue to work with the Peruvian government to arrange further flights in coming days.

“We are working round the clock to make flights available next week for British people who wish to leave Peru but who are currently unable to do so on commercial flights because of the travel restrictions that have been imposed,” an FCO spokesperson said.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said that the “Embassy in Santiago is currently assisting a significant number of Irish citizens in Peru”.

“These people are based in different locations around the country which makes repatriation efforts even more challenging,” the spokesperson said.

“Please be assured that we are working with our EU and UK partners to find the best solutions to get our Irish citizens home. We ask all of those affected to stay calm and patient and we will update people as soon as we can.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs has been keeping in touch with Irish citizens stranded there to advise them on the best course of action. It has also been liaising with the UK government about arranging a flight to repatriate British and Irish citizens to London.

Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra announced a state of emergency and a 15-day military lockdown to be imposed on Monday – with all land, sea and air borders to close.

There are currently 263 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Peru, compared with 683 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, and didn’t give them enough time to leave the country before the lockdown came into force.

A nighttime curfew has since been put in place from 8pm-5am, and Irish people have reported that the measures being imposed are becoming more extreme.

The solution that had been offered by the Irish government was a flight by Colombian carrier Avianca Airline that was scheduled to depart this weekend. Tickets would cost between €2,700-€3,200 per person, and people were asked to fill out a form to express interest, but many said that the price being offered was out of reach for many. 

Testimonies

Andrew Cotter, who is stranded in Peru with his girlfriend Marie Barry, said that ”most people will not be able to afford that flight if it goes ahead.”

Catherine, who is stranded in Cusco and who previously spoke to TheJournal.ie about this issue said that the Department of Foreign Affairs had been working hard to resolve the issue.

Ireland’s Chilean Embassy has also been working to help Irish citizens stranded in Peru.

James and Ciara McNicholl, who had been on a tour of South America since January for their honeymoon, highlighted that 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”.

The latest information

The Department of Foreign Affairs has sent an email to Irish citizens in Peru to inform them that they have yet to receive confirmation that the €3,000-ticket flight will go ahead, and that it may be next week before it departs.

Citizens that had previously booked with Air France, KLM, Iberia or other airlines are being advised to get in contact with them and attempt to rebook their flight with them; Air France has scheduled a full flight leaving Lima tomorrow. 

German and French citizens are reported to have purchased tickets on flights for €700-€800 – a fraction of what Avianca is offering.

A flight organised by the Portuguese government to fly from Lima to Lisbon will also be accommodating citizens from different EU countries, and the Department of Foreign Affairs is working to get seats for some Irish passengers on this flight.

There are hundreds of other tourists from around the world stranded in Peru, including 400 people from the UK.

The Guardian reports that Caia Daly, who is originally from Dublin but lives in north London, is stranded in Lima with her husband and their two young children – one of whom is a baby recovering from pneumonia. 

With reporting from Press Association and Dominic McGrath

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