Cornavirus crisis

Four rescue flights from Peru land in Israel, 2 more being sent to India

23 Israeli travelers and backpackers still stranded by coronavirus border closures in South American nation, working with embassy to get home

Israeli travelers who had been stranded in South America, arrive at Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israeli travelers who had been stranded in South America, arrive at Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A fourth and final rescue flight for Israeli travelers who had been stuck in Peru due to border closures enacted as a result of the coronavirus landed back in Israel on Friday afternoon.

The four El Al flights brought back some 1,100 Israelis, but 23 backpackers were left behind with no space on the planes, the Ynet news site reported, and were working with Israel’s embassy in Lima to find a solution.

El Al also said it was sending two flights to India, where some 3,000 Israelis were reported to be stranded. The company said it was examining the possibility of also sending a third flight.

India’s government on Thursday announced a one-day curfew for the 1.3 billion population and banned international flights to test the country’s ability to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of disaster response force spray disinfectants as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 outside a temple in Hyderabad, India, Friday, March 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

It said no international flights would be allowed to land in India for one week after 0000 GMT Saturday into Sunday at the port of departure.

New Delhi has already suspended the visas of all foreign tourists and barred passengers of flights from the worst-hit European nations.

The flights from Peru, which picked up some 550 Israelis from Cusco, a city in southeastern Peru, before heading to the capital Lima to pick up the rest of the Israelis in the South American country had faced delays departing.

The planes were finally okayed to fly from Cusco to Lima after Foreign Minister Israel Katz spoke with his Peruvian counterpart Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, who gave the go-ahead after consulting with Peru’s transportation minister, the foreign minister said.

Peru had blocked the flights over concerns about having such a large group land in Lima and fears that the Israelis could look for lodgings in the city, potentially increasing the spread of the virus, according to Channel 12 news.

Footage aired Wednesday by Israeli television showed passengers huddled together outside the airport in Cusco, placing themselves at high risk of exposure to the virus.

The Israelis were ordered to split apart and find places to sleep at the airport as they waited for the flights to be approved.

Thousands of Israelis are believed to be in South America, where several countries have announced border closures to combat the spread of coronavirus. Argentina and Peru both announced border closures Sunday, while Chile implemented one on Wednesday. A travel ban on foreigners took effect on Monday in Colombia, and Brazil has said travelers should be prepared for a ban to be put in place.

With airlines cutting flights across the board amid the drop in global travel due to the virus, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday urged all Israelis who “want to come home” to do so immediately.

“Given the reductions and cancellation of flights worldwide, and the moves by countries to close their airspace and their borders because of the coronavirus outbreak, we are again calling on those Israelis abroad who want to come home to do so as soon as possible,” the ministry said in a statement.

It also published on its website a list of countries (Hebrew) that fly to Israel with updates regarding whether such flights still exist.

A spokesman for the ministry said Israelis abroad should not expect the country to provide free charter flights if a decision is made to halt all air traffic.

Any Israelis returning to the country must quarantine for 14 days in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines.The Foreign Ministry statement came after the Interior Ministry announced Wednesday that effective immediately, only citizens and those who base their lives in Israel will be allowed into the country.

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