Coronavirus: Dominic Raab unveils £75m repatriation plan

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab unveils £75m repatriation plan to fly home ‘tens of thousands’ of Britons stranded abroad due to Coronavirus crisis

  • Brits abroad have been struggling to get home after flights have been cancelled 
  • Around 6,000 are trapped in New Zealand that has imposed a strict lockdown
  • Last night some Britons trapped in Peru were able to get a flight out of Lima 
  • Are you or your family trapped abroad? Email: [email protected] 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Dominic Raab today unveiled a massive £75 million repatriation plan to bring back ‘tens of thousands’ of Britons stranded abroad because of the coronavirus crisis. 

The Foreign Secretary said the UK government will now step in to provide ‘special charter flights’ from parts of the world where commercial flights are no longer in operation. 

The government has struck a ‘new arrangement’ with British Airways, Easyjet, Jet2 and other airlines to provide the planes for the effort. 

Speaking at the government’s daily coronavirus press conference in Number 10 Downing Street, Mr Raab said: ‘Under the arrangements that we are putting place we will target flights from a range of priority countries, starting this week.’  

He continued: ‘Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines will be responsible for getting passengers home. 

‘That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled. 

‘And it means allowing passengers to change tickets, including between carriers. So for those still in those countries where commercial options are still available, don’t wait, don’t run the risk of getting stranded, the airlines are standing by to help you, please book your tickets as soon as possible. 

‘Where commercial flights are no longer running the government will provide the necessary financial support for special charter flights to bring UK nationals back home. 

‘Once special charter flights have been arranged we will promote them through the government’s travel advice and by the British embassy or high commission in the relevant country.’ 

Mr Raab said the £75m being made available by the government will be used to ‘support those flights and the airlines in order to keep the cost down and affordable for those seeking to return to the UK’. 

The government’s efforts will be prioritised to help the most vulnerable passengers get home with the special flights expected to initially focus on areas with large numbers of British travellers.    

Up to a million Britons stranded abroad are still scrambling to return to the UK, including 6,000 who are marooned in New Zealand with thousands more trapped in Peru.

Dominic Rabb today unveiled a £75m effort to bring back home stranded Britons stuck abroad 

The government advised against all non-essential foreign travel on March 17 before then urging all UK residents abroad to return home as soon as possible on March 23. 

However, many people have found it difficult, if not impossible, to buy commercial plane tickets after widespread flight cancellations while many of those who have found tickets have faced steep prices.  

Mr Raab said that a Foreign Office helpline set up to deal with traveller questions normally receives about 1,000 calls a day but last Tuesday the number of calls hit an all time record at 15,000. 

He said that as a result the government had increased resources at the call centre to make sure questions got answered as he tried to reassure worried families. 

‘For those stranded or for families nervously awaiting news and wanting to see their loved ones return home, we are doing everything we can,’ he said. 

‘We have improved our advice and boosted the call centre so travellers get better and swifter information. 

‘We have put in place this arrangement with the airlines so that we can reach more British citizens in vulnerable circumstances abroad where commercial flights aren’t running and we are working intensively round the clock with all of our partner countries and governments around the world to keep open the airports, the ports and the flights to bring people home.

‘We have not faced an international challenge quite like this before but together we are going to rise to it and of course here at home we can all support our NHS by continuing to follow the guidance to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.’ 

New Zealand has imposed one of the strictest lockdowns of any country to battle the deadly disease, and has grounded international flights, leaving thousands of Brits, including doctors and nurses, desperate to get home. 

Mr Raab had already called Winston Peters, New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, to ask for assistance in getting Brits home. 

RAF voyager transport planes could be deployed to bring UK citizens home from places such as India and Peru, where conditions are thought to be deteriorating.

It comes as two repatriation flights carrying British passengers from Peru have landed at Heathrow Airport.

The British Airways flights left Lima on Sunday and landed at the west London hub on Monday morning. 

 The Foreign Office has not said how many passengers were on board, but said two more flights will leave Peru on Monday, arriving in the UK on Tuesday.

The repatriation flights were arranged by the Foreign Office in partnership with British Airways to rescue more than 1,000 stranded Britons.

Casi Cartwright and Lewis Dafydd who are currently stranded in Peru, like many other Brits

British critical care nurse Rachel Brockbank is stuck in Christchurch due to lockdown after visiting with family for sister’s wedding

A party of eight tourists – including young children – are trapped in Goa, thousands of miles from home, while their supplies of medicine and food dwindle

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, the Foreign Office has helped to bring home almost 1,400 people on specially chartered government flights from China and Peru and 1,900 people on cruise ships from places including California, Brazil and Japan.

In the last week, the Foreign Office has helped more than 4,000 people to get back from Jamaica and more than 8,500 people to get back from Morocco.

Around 5,000 Britons successfully left Bali after the British team in Indonesia worked with their counterparts to unblock a visa permissions issue. 

A number of Britons in New Zealand are using social media to call on the government, and specific airlines, to get them safely home.

A British family has been left stranded in India after their flight home was cancelled due to Coronavirus.

The party of eight tourists – including young children – are trapped in Goa, thousands of miles from home, while their supplies of medicine and food dwindle.

Despite efforts to contact the British Embassy, the family say they have had ‘no sign of help’ as their holiday in paradise turns into a living nightmare.

They also claim to have been attacked by stick-wielding Indian police officers who told them ‘we can beat you now, no-one will care’ when they left their hotel to try to buy food.

An online petition to try to get the group home has already gathered hundreds of signatures.

Mother-of-two Chanttel Carrington, from Isle of Sheppey in Kent, said: ‘We are stranded with little money, and three of our party members are in need of prescribed medication.

‘We have tried to contact the British Embassy multiple times with no success.

‘There is no sign of help or support whatsoever.’

Other group members include Ms Carrington’s children Ivy-rose McCoy, six, and son George McCoy, four, as well as her partner Barney McCoy.

The rest are Ms Carrington’s parents Gary and Denise Carrington, aged 59 and 56 respectively, her sister Charley Carrington, 19, and Charley’s 18-year-old boyfriend Luke Manning.

They had gone on holiday to the coastal state of Goa, but their flight home last Monday, March 23, was cancelled as travel chaos amid the pandemic continued to snowball.

Ms Carrington claimed that she and Mr McCoy received rough treatment from local police when they went to get medication and food for their children, and were ordered back to their hotel.

She added: ‘We went to the shops to get some medicine and also some food for our children the police attacked my partner with sticks when we attempted to try and buy food and medicine.’

The children saw the spectacle and Ms Carrington said: ‘My son was crying and said are we going to die in this hotel?

‘The hotel is running out of food and the kids are starting to get poorly and distressed with the situation.’ 

Brits in New Zealand are using Twitter to try and get home by appealing to airlines and politicians.

A user Twitter user called Fen said: ‘Waking up to an email from @EmilyThornberry is the one thing that has given me hope that I will be able to return home. I can’t thank her enough for what she is trying to do for us all.’ 

And Shannon Rickards, said:  ‘When @qatarairways have the chance to literally become THE BEST AIRLINE IN THE if they step up and get people home. Unlike who many of us will never fly with again. #britsinNZ #getushome.

Crispian Wilson at the Foreign Office has said that commercial routes are the only practical option for many Brits stranded abroad

Reece Hall, 24, from Cornwall, fell victim to a mugging and serious assault on February 26 in north Goa, leaving him with a fractured jaw, eye socket and leg injury, now severely infected

Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweeted today about Mr Raab’s expected repatriation plan

Nurse stranded 7,000 miles away in the Philippines pleads with authorities to get her home so she can treat coronavirus victims

A nurse is pleading with authorities to get her home so she can help treat victims of the coronavirus.

Polly Collins left town for a holiday in the Philippines at the start of the month with a friend, who is also a nurse.

As the outbreak worsened and turned into a global pandemic, countries have tightened their borders and flights have been cancelled.

Polly Collins is desperate to get back and help the effort at home

Now Polly is stranded nearly 7,000 miles away and desperate to get home to help.

She has been inundated with appeals from health agencies back home wanting her to help treat patients. 

Before the pandemic worsened Polly and her friend landed at Cebu City and went to Puerto Princessa and on to the remote island of El Nido Palawan.

They were there for eight days before the island was put on lockdown and people had to evacuate due to the virus.

The two nurses got the last flight off the island but saw many UK nationals and others stranded there.

Rescue flights were promised but didn’t happen, although the airlines just kept taking their money.

Polly, who hit national headlines when she saved the life of a man having a heart attack at a train station in London in 2015, tried to get a flight to stay with friends in Bangkok but that was cancelled.

She has sufficient food and water but is anxious to be home to her family and get working supporting the victims of coronavirus.

‘I am just taking it day by day as so many events have taken place while being here,’ she said.

‘Meanwhile whilst here I have developed an infection on my lower shin by a mosquito. This also has needed urgent medical treatment as I was unable to weight bear.

‘As I nurse I tried my utmost to self treat but needed appropriate antibiotics. The surgeon I saw was Filipino, very experienced with superb knowledge. He was very friendly advising me that the wound would need debriding.’

The operation was painful but successful. 

She told how Filippino police now man checkpoints nearby ensuring people follow the lockdown rules.

‘It’s becoming much the same as the UK although there are no reports of any confirmed cases as yet. I have no doubt this will soon change,’ she said.

‘Everyone has to have a health pass now and these must be shown in supermarkets etc. The authorities have given me consent to travel into Cebu City for my follow up appointment with the surgeon but this could change.’

Luckily she met a fellow Lincolnshire man who was formerly stationed at RAF Waddington and at RAF Northolt. He and his wife, who run holiday accommodation have supported Polly.

‘I am safe. I have food and I have water and that’s the main thing. My family are safe back over in the UK but I will pray for them everyday.

I will keep in contact as long as able but I cannot stress enough just how many Brits are in the exactly the same situation. There is no help, there are no flights, and the communication is practically zero.

‘The shortages for nurses back in the UK are phenomenal. The demand is unreal yet they can’t get this nurse back to her own country to help with the crisis,’ said Polly.

She added: ‘We pray and live in hope that sooner or later the

Government will intervene but I appreciate the focus is on the UK and ensuring the elderly and the vulnerable are prioritised.’

‘Unfortunately the authorities are now seeing all Europeans as a threat. The locals see us as a carrier of the virus. Food supplements are now being restricted for all non-Filipino residents.’

Dr Marion Lynch is one of many medical professionals currently in the country and has implored the government to get them home so they can help battle the coronavirus. 

And critical care nurse Rachel Brockbank is currently stuck in New Zealand after visiting with her family for her sister’s wedding, but is desperate to get home.

She told the New Zealand Herald: ‘I want to go back. I don’t think my family want me to but I feel that’s where I should be. That’s where I’m needed.’ 

The Foreign Office has projected between 300,000 and one million Brits are currently trapped abroad, but there is no exact figure available as there is no method in place to be able to track everybody.

The latest effort emerged as the UK’s high commissioner in Australia, Vicky Treadell, warned there are at least 30,000 Britons in the country and a few planes ‘won’t do it’.

She tweeted: ‘Brits across Australia so no single point of departure. Keeping key airports and commercial airlines providing 1000s of seats between them is therefore our current priority.’

In the Philippines a Brit stranded abroad fears his wife and unborn baby will die because he claims the British Embassy is refusing to help the family get to hospital.

Desperate Tom Shelton’s Philippino wife Annie is eight months pregnant with his first baby.

She needs a Caesarean because their unborn son is upside down in the breech position.

But the couple, who have been running a guesthouse in El Nido, in the Philippines for the last two years, are now a six-hour drive away from hospital because of restrictions enforced to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Tom, 43, from Consett, Durham, says the British Embassy won’t help because his wife is not a British citizen.

He claims they have offered to support the family once the baby – who will be British – is born but Tom fears by then it could be too late.

The struggling family are now living in a hut to save money and depending on neighbours for food after the spread of coronavirus destroyed their livelihood.

‘My baby could die because of the lockdown,’ Tom said.

‘Annie is due on April 17 but could go into labour at any time, especially with all the stress of the situation.

‘The baby is feet first and its head could get stuck if she ends up giving birth at home with no assistance. My baby and my wife’s lives are at risk and yet no one will help me.’

British Nationals stuck in India said their plight is becoming ‘desperate’, with some claiming they have faced police brutality while attempting to get food and medical supplies.  

Reece Hall, 24, a ground worker from Cornwall, fell victim to a mugging and serious assault on February 26 in Titos Lane, north Goa, leaving him with a fractured jaw, eye socket and a leg injury, which has now become severely infected.

Unable to leave his accommodation for regular treatment due to hostility towards tourists and strict government lock down measures, in place since Wednesday, Mr Hall’s open leg wound, which was caused when three muggers pushed him from his bike, is now badly inflamed.

Mr Hall said: ‘I’ve been avoid going outside ever since seeing videos of people getting beaten up and hearing stories from foreigners who have been beaten, (…) my leg is not looking good at the moment’. 

‘I’m desperate to get a plane ticket home but it’s gone past the point of trying to get one now as they are all cancelled, all we can do is contact government officials. I’m surviving off one meal of rice a day.’ 

A 21-day lock down was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday causing the immediate closure of shops, restaurants and many hotels.

Heidi Hawkins, 49, a carer from West Sussex stuck in south Goa, said: ‘The supermarket was rumoured to be open and it was heaving, no social distancing, every man for himself. 

‘The police just came along and started smacking people with their sticks. So people are too scared to go out for food. When you hear of a shop that’s open you’re too scared to go there because of the police brutality. 

‘We just need food and water and we’ve been left with no information.

‘I went to the police station in Colva to ask for information and the police threatened to put me behind bars. I was laughed at and ridiculed.

‘At home I’ve got my 22-year-old daughter who is highly anxious alone with her eight-week-old baby, her four-year-old daughter and my 19-year-old disabled daughter. She’s been stuck inside without food. While my 19-year-son, who is severely disabled is in an assisted living house and he is desperately homesick and doesn’t understand. 

‘I am desperate to get to him and take him home. I need to get home for my babies, they need their mum.’ 

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