Travelers across the world are scrambling to find flights home as governments urged their citizens to return and some nations announced the imminent closure of airports and borders.
As coronavirus cases near 200,000 globally, a growing number of countries have imposed lockdowns and barred entry to foreigners. As a result, passengers around the world are navigating rapidly changing travel advice, high fares and cancelled flights.
There have been 7,944 deaths worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
On Tuesday, the Australian government advised citizens to return home as soon as possible by commercial means, warning that overseas travel was becoming “more complex and difficult” as countries impose travel restrictions.
Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates have issued similar blanket advice.
In the UK, the foreign office has continued to issue a flurry of updated guidance for specific countries, warning against all but essential travel to a vast number of countries across Europe, as well as elsewhere. On Tuesday evening, it announced that it was withdrawing some staff from its embassy in Myanmar and told British citizens to leave the country if they were able to do so, adding: “This is due to potential pressures on medical facilities and the risk of air routes out of Myanmar being cancelled.”
The warnings from governments came as:
- The World Health Organization called for “aggressive” action in Southeast Asia, stating that some countries were heading towards community transmission.
- Australia stepped up its response, announcing an indefinite new ban on indoor groups of 100 people or more, with exemptions for schools, public transport, universities, prisons, courts, supermarkets and worksites.
- Kyrgyzstan in central Asia confirmed its first coronavirus cases, with three citizens testing positive after arriving from Saudi Arabia.
- The US death toll passed 100 as coronavirus reached every state.
- 85,000 prisoners were temporarily released in Iran due to the coronavirus outbreak
- Economists at ratings agency S&P said the much-feared worldwide recession had arrived and estimated global GDP would grow at 1%-1.5% in 2020, with the risk that it could sink even lower.
In the UK, where 1,960 cases have now been recorded, travelers have been forced to abandon studies, work trips and holidays. Some are racing to arrive home before their own countries announce a lockdown.
Governments in Asia, which are anticipating a rush of arrivals from virus hotspots in Europe, are heightening preventative measures to stop new cases from being imported.
A growing number of countries globally now require returnees to remain in isolation for 14 days. This also includes many countries in Europe, where leaders have announced plans to close their borders to almost all visitors, with exceptions made for European citizens and residents returning home. On Wednesday, Taiwan became the latest country to issue a similar notice, stating that non-residents will not be allowed entry from midnight tonight.
The rush to return home has been complicated by the growing number of entry restrictions announced globally, as well as airport closures. Canada has redirected international flights to a limited number of airports, while American returnees who have been in high-risk areas are also required to fly to one of 13 hubs. Elsewhere, airports closures have been announced in Sri Lanka, Egypt and Serbia.
Tessa McLean, from Herefordshire, is among tens of travelers, including children, stuck at Hurghada airport in Egypt, where all air traffic will be halted from tomorrow until March 31.
McLean, who is on holiday with her partner, was due to fly back on March 24 but fears she could now be left stranded. While she could stay until the airport is set to reopen in April, she fears that it may remain closed for longer and that travel could become even more complicated.
“At the moment nobody knows what’s going on,” she said. “We’re in better position than many because we have an apartment here but there are some people who have been told their hotels are closing because Egypt is going to try and knock this [outbreak] on the head.”
The cost of fruit and vegetables in the market doubled last night as the surrounding roads were shut, she added. “We’re not getting any information from the embassy, the airline. There’s nobody here and we don’t know when somebody will come.”
Gaynor Monks, who is Australian, arrived in Sri Lanka two days ago for her mother-in-law’s 60th birthday and has also now been left stranded. Following the updated guidance she is trying to return home, but the airport is closed there and there is no official help, she told the Guardian on Tuesday.
“There are just no planes to take us. Because no planes are coming in, we are sort of stranded,” she said. She is already worried about her husband losing two weeks of work when they get home and he has to self-quarantine; he doesn’t get sick pay.
“Their message today was to contact your agent or contact the airline or insurance company, I can’t get hold of the agent, and the airline can’t help because we didn’t book direct, and the insurance company have let us down as they are not going to cover.”
The number of cases globally has reached 198,006, according to John Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic, while 7,948 people have died and 81,950 recovered.
This article was written by Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.