Hundreds of Australians stranded in South America due to the coronavirus pandemic could be flown home within days.
More than 260 Australian nationals and permanent residents are expected to be on a fully booked commercial charter flight scheduled to depart Lima, Peru, within days, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
The flight is subject to final approval to depart by Peruvian authorities.Another flight is expected to leave Montevideo in Uruguay in coming days with Australians from the Ocean Atlantic cruise ship and any others in the area who want to come home.
"Further facilitated flights are already being planned for Australians in South America, due to particular challenges with transport out of the region," Mr McCormack and Senator Payne said in a joint statement.
"Australian embassies in Lima and Buenos Aires are working with local authorities in Peru and Uruguay to ensure all arrangements are in place for the flights to Australia, which has required careful and consistent negotiation."
They said the government was supporting the flights after discussions with Australian travel company Chimu Adventures, which will manage the charter operations out of Lima, Montevideo and Cusco.
The government had provided vital assurances to make the flights happen, including indemnity and underwriting unforeseen costs."
As the Government stated yesterday, we understand many Australians overseas face great difficulty getting home," the statement said.
"We have agreed to consider, on a case-by-case basis, supporting commercial airlines to operate non-scheduled services to less central locations for Australians.
"Australians who can travel home by commercial means are urged to do so as soon as possible.More than 3000 Australians are stuck on board cruise ships across the globe, with more than 30 vessels scattered off South America, Europe, the United States and further afield.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has had more than 18,500 requests for assistance from Australians stranded overseas since March 13.
Meanwhile, Australians have been warned that time and flight options are running out if they want to flee the US as the coronavirus spreads across the globe.
Chelsey Martin, Australia's consulate-general in Los Angeles, issued a stark message on Thursday to the "tens of thousands" of Australians who live within her jurisdiction in America's southwest states.
Qantas and Virgin Australia are about to cut flights from the US to Australia while United Airlines will have a limited schedule.
"Whatever your circumstances, given the escalating COVID-19 crisis I wanted to reach out and encourage any Australians wishing to go home to do so as soon as possible," Ms Martin said in a video message posted on the LA consulate's Twitter page.
"After the end of this week, commercial flight options will be incredibly limited.
"Qantas' final scheduled flight is out of LAX (Los Angeles) on Friday, the 27th of March.
"Virgin's final scheduled flight out of LAX is on Sunday the 29th of March.
"United Airlines has advised us that they will continue with a limited flight schedule from San Francisco to Sydney in the weeks ahead, but the situation is changing rapidly and I would encourage anyone who is still deciding whether or not they would like to return to Australia, not to delay taking that decision.
"These are unprecedented and anxious times for many."
Ms Martin said the LA consulate would remain open "around the clock" to provide consular assistance.
- Reported with AAP
Source: 9News https://www.9news.com.au/world/coronavirus-flights-for-stranded-aussies-but-options-to-flee-covid-19-us-closing/a2697ef6-21d0-446c-8d20-a004f616c3b9