The first rescue flight to evacuate hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders trapped in Peru is now set to leave on Sunday, with passengers told to source a face mask or they will not be allowed on board.
The Australians will be taken from their hotels under police escort to the flight, which has involved delicate negotiations with Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
Confirmation that Peru is preparing to clear the plane to fly despite a national lockdown is good news for dozens of Australians who have secured the one-way tickets for an eye-watering $5000 and business-class seats for $10,000.
But hundreds of Australians left behind can’t afford the flights or can’t reach the airport.
On Thursday night the travel company organising the flights, Chimu Adventures, confirmed “the paperwork requirements to operate the repatriation flights from Lima and Cusco have now progressed the final stages and departure is looking very positive”.
“At this point, we still don’t have detailed timings for the flights, but the paperwork is currently being submitted to the Peruvian authorities for a Sunday (29/03/2020) departure,” a Chimu Travel spokesman said.
“The Lima flight will depart from the military airport terminal next to the main international terminal in Callao, called Grupo 8.
“Lima passengers will be transferred from their place of residence to Grupo 8 on the day via government-sanctioned transfers.
“Cusco passengers will be transferred, also via government-sanctioned transfers, to Cusco airport for an earlier flight in order to connect with the main flight from Lima.”
But passengers must first obtain a face mask before they are picked up and driven to the airport.
“Travellers will also be required to wear a mask for the entire duration of the flight, from collection at their place of residence,” Chimu Travel said.
“Chimu will be endeavouring to source some spare masks, but we can’t guarantee at this point that we will be able to get them.
“We have asked all travellers to please ensure that they source a facemask for themselves as soon as possible.
“Travellers will not be able to board the flight without this.
“We are co-ordinating a large number of vehicles to transfer people to the airport, including police escorts and this takes some preparation.
“I’d note that there may be a possibility to make some changes to the manifest tomorrow morning Australian time, but this will be done on a “best efforts” basis.
“We cannot guarantee any refunds or changes post tomorrow am.”
Proposed flights from Buenos Aires will not be proceeding, with all travellers to secure refunds.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack conceded this week that not all Australians from around the world will be able to return home immediately as countries close their borders to fight the coronavirus.
Australians trapped in Peru also face a fresh threat, with backpackers in a hostel with a confirmed case of COVID-19 told they can no longer leave, even for food or medical supplies, for the next 30 days.
Perth man Mervyn Sng, 26, has told The New Daily that his holiday now feels like “a prison”.
Authorities have told him he could be quarantined at his hostel for four weeks, or even longer.
That means he will not be able to join any rescue flights leaving the country and could be stuck in Peru for months.
“If it didn’t feel like prison before, it’s starting to now,” he said.