Up to a million Britons stranded abroad are scrambling to get home before being trapped inside countries which are sealing their borders amid the coronavirus pandemic.
UK citizens are stuck in places imposing travel bans, and face paying extortionate air fares to get home, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said yesterday.
The roughly 400 people in Peru were told they have ‘no obvious way out’ and fear being stranded in the nation which has limited medical supplies and creaking social stability.
And across Europe and other popular holiday destinations, Britons have told of their exasperation in trying to contact airlines and the Foreign Office to find out how to get home.
Holidaymakers in Agadir, Morocco, have even formed a WhatsApp group called Stuck In Agadir where they liken themselves to ‘prisoners’.
Jet2 has cancelled all flights until April 31, other than running a ‘limited number of routes’ before tomorrow.
Ryanair is also running an 80 per cent reduced service after March 25, before which time it is advising all customers to book a flight home.
Easyjet is running repatriation flights for all its customers, and a source told MailOnline ‘no easyJet passenger will be left stranded’.
But Anne-Marie, who is in the Egyptian resort of Hurghada, said she has no idea how she is going to get back after ‘four days of hell’ trying to contact the airline to see if she is able to get home.
She told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’ve basically had four days of hell trying to get through to the Foreign Office, to easyJet, to find out how can we possibly get home.
‘We don’t know how we’re going to get home.’
Britons waiting at the airport in Marrakesh, Morocco, which has imposed travel bans amid the coronavirus crisis
The roughly 400 people in Peru were told by Dominic Raab they have ‘no obvious way out’ and fear being stranded in the nation which has limited medical supplies and creaking social stability
Holidaymakers in Agadir, Morocco, have even formed a WhatsApp group called Stuck In Agadir where they liken themselves to ‘prisoners’
Stranded passengers remain at El Dorado International airport in Bogota, Colombia, yesterday
Passengers wait for their flights at Marrakesh Airport on March 15. Several special flights departed Morocco taking thousands of stranded Europeans home
Anne-Marie said when she left the UK last week, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice was that ‘it was fine to travel to Egypt’.
But since then Egypt has introduced travel restrictions and her flight home was cancelled.
She said: ‘Like a lot of people, we were perhaps naive and hopeful, and we didn’t think that the situation was going to get so bad so quickly.
‘We’ve been watching along with everybody else with absolute horror how rapid the changes have been occurring.
‘We started to think last Friday, we need to get out of here soon, we need to get thinking about flights. Then they were all cancelled.’
Easyjet is running three rescue flights from Hurghada today, and it is understood these flights from Egypt, and other locations with travel bans, will continue to meet the demand from Britons to come home.
British tourists in long queues at Palma de Mallorca airport in Spain on Monday. Up to a million Britons are stranded abroad and facing extortionate air fares to get home
Ryanair plans to ground flights
Ryanair is set to ground almost its entire flight from Tuesday in response to the growing number of coronavirus travel bans.
In a statement on its website, the airline said: ‘Our flight schedules have been hugely disrupted by these Government restrictions and will be subject to further cuts.’
Up until Tuesday March 24, Ryanair Group Airlines will cut flight schedules by over 80 percent.
From next Tuesday, the company expects ‘most if not all Ryanair Group flights will be grounded, except for a very small number of flights to maintain essential connectivity, mostly between the UK and Ireland.’
Other airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Norwegian, Easyjet and Jet2, have cut schedules to as little as 10 per cent of normal levels.
Ryanair’s move comes amid a growing crisis for the hospitality and travel industry.
But the airline only has the contact details of those who booked directly through easyJet and is unable to contact those who booked via tour operators.
Both Jet 2 and Ryanair have cancelled most flights for roughly six weeks, but this could be extended if countries elongate travel bans.
A Jet 2 spokesperson told the Independent: ‘We are continuing to operate our scheduled programme, with aircraft flying empty from the UK so that we can fill them and bring customers home.
‘In addition to that programme of scheduled flights and despite the ongoing disruption, we have been putting on extra flights, to bring even more customers home.’
Elsewhere, stranded Britons fear being stuck in countries which have significantly worse medical systems to treat the deadly virus which has not killed over 10,000 globally.
Dr Moby Rehman, a cardiac surgeon from London, is stuck in Peru due to the country implementing a travel ban.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that tourists in the country face a ‘crisis situation’.
Dr Rehman said: ‘There are vulnerable people trapped in Peru, including the elderly and the pregnant and people with chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma and heart disease, with limited supplies of medicine.
‘This is a big issue. It’s not that people can just be OK and carry on here for a few months.
‘The Peruvian healthcare system is not what we’re used to in the UK.’
He added that civil unrest ‘is probably likely to recur’.
The British embassy in Peru posted a message on Twitter stating that Colombian airline Avianca was considering operating a charter flight from Lima to London this weekend, but warned that tickets for the one-way trip were ‘likely’ to cost between 3,000 and 3,500 US dollars (£2,600 to £3,000).
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: ‘We recognise that any British people currently overseas may be nervous about the impact of coronavirus on their travel and their health.
‘We are in close contact with travel providers and our international partners to provide support to those British people affected by ongoing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.’
Mr Raab yesterday revealed he was in talks with commercial airlines about operating new routes they had never flown before and also with allies to take Britons back on their flights.
Giving evidence to the foreign affairs select committee, Mr Raab said: ‘Getting hundreds of thousands home is a massive, epic challenge but I’m confident we are rising to it.’
He said he was working with countries such as Peru to make sure there was a ‘window of opportunity’ for British nationals to get out. But last night stranded Britons said flights being offered by commercial airlines were ‘unaffordable’.
Mr Raab said: ‘We have anywhere between 300,000 to 400,000 to closer to a million British citizens travelling abroad. We don’t know for sure, we don’t keep a register of Brits travelling abroad, but that is massive scale.
‘We also need to be realistic, that if anyone is travelling out now, given the change of advice or indeed if they can stay safely in the countries where they are for a period – that is a choice they are going to have to think about.’
He said 28,000 Britons had phoned the helpline in Malaga, Spain, on one day alone.
Mr Raab said the Government was asking airlines to put on flights to countries they had never flown to before.
‘Sometimes we are going to be talking and asking the airlines to operate lines that they might not in the past have done,’ he added.
He also said he was hoping other countries would offer up space on their repatriation flights for stranded Britons abroad after the UK helped other countries.
He said: ‘We need to work with the host government to make sure there is a window of opportunity for British nationals to get out.’