There are currently over a thousand American citizens stuck in Peru that are unable to get back to the United States due to the COVID-19 outbreak. On Sunday, March 15th at 8 p.m., the Peruvian president announced that the country would close its borders and that there would be a 15-day quarantine.
Travelers scrambled to buy tickets, pack their bags, and rush to the capital city of Lima. Airport security officials turned away anyone who did not already have a ticket. Edelmira Aviles, 25 year old from Lakeland, Florida, who has been backpacking through South America with her girlfriend since October, rushed to the nearest Internet café to buy a ticket, finding that they all exceeded $1000, and that most flights were not even going to the US. The French government had already arranged a flight for her partner to return to France.
The State Department issued a level 4 “Do Not Travel” warning on every country earlier this week.
Julie Curry, a resident of Tampa who owns a bakery, is stuck—along with her husband, mother-in-law and two children, ages 12 and 6 in the town of Miraflores. She says, “The US embassy has been absolutely zero help—they were actually closed on Monday and Tuesday when this all happened,” she says. W hen she did get in contact with officials there, they directed her to check online updates.
These updates gave her phone numbers for airlines to book commercial flights out of the country, none of which were available. Curry mentioned that one of the phone numbers was actually a phone sex hotline, stating, “That’s the level of incompetence we’re dealing with right now,” says Curry. She and her family currently have about $15,000 in tied up airline fees, and it is unclear whether they will receive reimbursements.
They are reluctant to keep booking flights for fear that they will run out of funds by the time one becomes available. Other countries including Israel, Argentina and Italy have arranged flights to get their citizens out of Peru.
A WhatsApp group announced on Twitter that it is helping American citizens stuck in Peru organize and share information. Many of the elderly are not allowed to leave to get groceries, so people on the app coordinate deliveries.
Americans, who currently hold one of the most powerful passports in the world, are finding that they’re becoming increasingly stranded in foreign countries as the U.S. is not assisting with repatriation.
Tyrone Diaz, 43, who has been traveling with his brother, sister and mother to bring their father’s remains back to his hometown of Arequipa, arrived Sunday morning just before the president announced the border closing. Shocked, they scrambled to leave but found that the flight they booked had been canceled due to bad weather.
The Peruvian government sent Air Force planes to pick people up that had been stranded in the area and took them to an Air Force base before transferring them to Lima. “Our own government has been so unhelpful so far—not one word. Nothing. No information. They just tell us to go to a website and to check for updates. Our biggest fear is that the US may close airports or may close the borders for any flights coming in or out of the country,” says Diaz. Diaz commented on the fact that other governments are covering the flight costs to get their citizens out of Peru, whereas Americans stuck in Peru are expected to fund their own return.
Some of the Americans stranded in Peru require medication that is running out, and again the embassy is not offering assistance. Of this, Julie Curry says, matter-of-factly, “You’re going to have Americans die here.”