COVID-19 Constituents Currently Abroad

We've recently had positive updates from a few people already making it home who we have been supporting from Mid Sussex back safe from Ecuador, Peru and New Zealand - lots more to do but some relief and positive news for local families and I am hopeful this update will mean more safe returns. 

1st April Update from the Foreign Secretary: 

The UK’s international strategy to tackle COVID-19 has four key strands:

  • To support the return of British Nationals who are otherwise at risk of being stranded;
  • To help the most vulnerable countries become more resilient;
  • To pursue a vaccine, and;
  • To keep open vital trade routes and supply chains, including for food and medicines;

Bringing British Nationals home

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge in protecting and assisting British Nationals overseas. We face constantly changing and complex set of conditions, based on restrictions on travel and lockdown in countries across the globe, sometimes with little or no notice. For example, between 22-24 March, 80 countries placed restrictions on their borders.

FCO travel advice strongly urges those British Nationals who are currently overseas but living in the UK to return as soon as possible. It is available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus

The Government’s priority over the coming days and wees will be to help British Nationals currently overseas to return home. The entire FCO network has been mobilised to support this effort.

Working with airlines and foreign government, we have already helped hundreds of thousands of British Nationals return home, including:

  • Arranging specially chartered flights for over 1600 British travellers from China, Ghana, Peru and Tunisia and a further 1200 people from cruise ships in the US, Japan and Brazil.
  • Assisting over 8500 people in Morocco to fly home, with our Embassy team getting them on to 49 commercial flights after travel restrictions on air travel were imposed.
  • Persuading Qatar Airlines to provide over 1000 extra seats on their route from Australia, providing 3500 seats every day since Friday 27th March.
  • Helping 5000 UK Nationals to return from Cyprus by liaising with airlines and the Cyprus government to facilitate their return.
  • Working with the Indonesian authorities to unblock a visa permissions issue to allow around 5000 British Nationals to leave Bali.
  • Supporting the return of more than 12000 British National from Egypt.
  • Supporting the repatriation of 230 British National form the H10 Costa Adeje Hotel in Tenerife and providing consular support to up to 200,000 British Nationals in Spain as they rebooked their commercial returns.

In addition, on the 30th March I announced a new partnership between the Government and airlines to fly home more stranded British travellers where commercial routes do not exist. The Government will provide up to £75 million in financial support to enable special charter flights to priority countries, operated by airlines including British Airways, Virgin Easyjet, Jet 2 and Titan. This service has already begun, with flights earlier this week from Ghana and Tunisia. Where people are in real need, our consular teams will work with them to consider their options. As a last resort, we offer an emergency loan to support repatriation.

We are doing everything we can to ensure that those who need assistance are able to get through to us. Like many vital phone services in the UK, volumes of calls to our global Consular Contact Centres are at unprecedented levels. In the last seven days we have answered more than 25,000 calls when our normal call volume is 1,000 each day. We have now more than tripled capacity to achieve call handling rates consistently above 90 per cent while average call waiting times for those calling COVID-19 reasons is less than a couple of minutes. At the same time, we are redeploying additional staff in the UK to manage the increase in calls from those who are vulnerable and need consular support.

31st March Update:

The global travel situation caused by coronavirus has led to many people becoming stranded overseas. This is an unprecedented challenge with many countries closing borders and imposing travel restrictions with little warning. This has left many UK travellers struggling to get home.

The Government announced yesterday a new £75m partnership with airlines to fly home Britons stranded abroad due to COVID-19.

Over the weekend the government chartered flights from priority countries including Peru. Major airlines including EasyJet and Titan Airways have signed a memorandum of understanding negotiated by the Foreign Secretary and Transport Secretary. British Airways have also made clear that they will work with us in the national interest to get people home, and other airlines are expected to join. The Secretaries of State have published a joint letter to the airlines. The government is focused on getting Brits home through a twin-track approach:

  • Airlines recognising their responsibility for transporting their passengers with pre-booked tickets home, through offering them alternatives where routes are cancelled, allowing them to change tickets, where permissible – including between carriers – and offering them the latest information and advice as the situation changes
  • If commercial routes do not exist, the government will provide up to £75 million financial support to enable special charter flights – operated by the airlines above and others – to fly to priority countries to bring back UK residents

The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said:

“This is a worrying time for many British citizens travelling abroad. We’ve already worked with airlines and governments to enable hundreds of thousands to return home on commercial flights, and we will keep as many of those options open as possible.

Where commercial flights are not possible, we will build on the earlier charter flights we organised back from China, Japan, Cuba, Ghana and Peru. The arrangements agreed today will provide a clearer basis to organise special charter flights where Britons find themselves stranded. Our priority will always be the most vulnerable.

Special charter flights for countries with no commercial routes will be prioritised according to the number of stranded British travellers and their vulnerability, including an assessment of the local health provision. In some places, access for flights to land and the ability to move around within the country to assemble for return flights will also be decisive factors.

Charter flights are already up and running to Ghana and Tunisia. We will add more countries this week with the aim of bringing people back from countries such as India and South Africa where large numbers of British travellers are stuck and commercial routes are completely suspended. We are negotiating intensely with countries around the world to secure permissions for return flights where airspace has been closed.

The government has pledged up to £75 million to pay airlines for the additional charter flights to ensure tickets are affordable. Once special flights have been arranged, these will be promoted through the government’s travel advice and by the British embassy or high commission in country. British travellers who want a seat on the flight will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.

British tourists stranded abroad who want to return to the UK should first check if there are commercial routes available by visiting the airline websites, FCO travel advice pages for the country they are in and local British embassy social media.

If there are no commercial options, they should visit the travel advice pages and sign up to alerts for their location and follow embassy social media and email updates. When special return flights become available, these will be advertised by the embassy and British nationals on Travel Advice Pages and Embassy social media and those who have registered for updates will be contacted via email. British nationals will be asked to register their interest through our booking agents CTM.

Where people are in real need, our consular teams will work with them to consider their options. As a last resort, the Foreign Office will offer an emergency loan.

We have also tripled the capacity of the FCO’s call centre to ensure that people in emergency situations around the world are able to get assistance.”

The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps said:

“This is a very difficult time for British citizens travelling overseas, or those with families and loved ones abroad, which is why we are doing everything we can to ensure airlines can operate and bring people back home safely.”

Alastair Willson, Managing Director Titan Airways said:

“As a proud British company, we stand ready to work with the government to do all we can to bring stranded British travellers home.”

The government continues to urge countries around the world to keep transit hubs, airports and airspace open to ensure travellers are able to return to the UK. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to over 20 of his counterparts to support this effort and we have helped hundreds of thousands of British tourists return from all over the globe including 8,500 from Morocco, around 5,000 from Cyprus, and an estimated 150,000 from Spain.

 

Previous Advice before 30th March:

I appreciate the current situation is a concerning one for those currently abroad and for those with close family and friends abroad, I would recommend contacting your Airline or travel insurance company regarding your planned return flights.

I have received the following from the Foreign Secretary which may be useful:

“I know many of you will be concerned about how your constituents and their families will be affected by Covid-19 if they are travelling or living abroad. I wanted to set out what support we can provide to British nationals abroad, whether they are directly affected by Covid-19, or concerned about continuity of routine consular support by our network of 205 consular posts around the world.

“Constituents who choose to travel during the pandemic, or who are overseas, must be realistic about the level of disruption they are willing and able to endure, and to make decisions in light of the unprecedented conditions we face. That includes the risk they may not be able to get home, if travel restrictions are put in place.

“Constituents must also be realistic about our capacity to repatriate people from abroad. We have taken action where necessary, but repatriation is costly and complicated to coordinate. So, as has be the case thus far, Government-supported repatriations must only be undertaken in exceptional circumstances.”

From my understanding therefore I would strongly recommend constituents to consider whether it is likely arrangements in their host country will change and therefore whether or not to cut short their stays. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has recommended all British nationals currently abroad to make arrangements to return to the UK if possible. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has provided a number for British citizens currently abroad concerned about what action they can take, please find the number here: 0207 008 1500

I also attach a link below to the Government’s central hub on COVID-19: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response  

Furthermore the FCO is constantly updating their travel advice and I attach a link to the directory here: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice