Stranded UK tourists wait for news on charter flights

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Hundreds of thousands of UK citizens stranded abroad face an anxious wait for details of rescue flights to be announced.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has set aside £75 million to charter flights from destinations where commercial routes have been severed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Repatriation flights operated from Peru and Tunisia on Tuesday, but details of further flights have not been revealed.

On March 23, the FCO advised all UK residents who were travelling abroad to return home.

Hundreds of thousands of people have since travelled back on commercial flights, but transport secretary Grant Shapps estimates around 300,000 are still overseas.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that only 1,400 UK nationals had been repatriated on flights chartered by the government.

In contrast, the German embassy in London told the Guardian that its government has brought home 42,000 German nationals from 60 countries on 160 charter flights over the past fortnight.

Among the British citizens waiting to be flown home are dozens in Peru.

Sophia Diaz Melendez, a 27-year-old NHS nurse living in Southampton, is struggling to travel back from the capital Lima.

She was allocated a seat on a repatriation flight but received her notification too late.

She said: “They (the FCO) sent me documentation about the flight 30 minutes before the deadline and I couldn’t get there because I’m staying far from the airport. It’s really frustrating – I feel like I’ve lost my chance.”

Many British travellers have reported being unable to reach airports because internal transport networks have been closed down as countries implement Covid-19 lockdowns.

Dustin Chen, 48, from London, is stuck in a remote Amazon lodge in northern Peru and is running out of medication.

He said: “I need to get a ground transfer permit to leave my location, where it is difficult to get prescribed medicine.

“The embassy told me to stay safe and wait, but since then no reply, even after making contact almost every day.

“My guide told me that a few days ago a bus passed by my lodge carrying two British tourists but no-one tried to arrange to pick me up. I really need to get to Lima to access medicine.”

Raab said that once flights have been chartered they will be promoted in the government’s travel advice and by embassies and high commissions in relevant countries.

He acknowledged the FCO has not “faced an international challenge quite like this before” but insisted “we are going to rise to it”.

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