Koreans stranded in Peru set to return on chartered flight this week

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Koreans stranded in Peru set to return on chartered flight this week

A group of some 200 Koreans stranded in Peru is finally expected to return home on a chartered Air Mexico flight on Thursday after the South American country closed its borders last week over the coronavirus.

The Koreans are expected to depart from the capital of Lima Thursday on an Air Mexico plane with a layover in Mexico City and arrive at Incheon International Airport, according to the Korean Embassy in Peru on Monday.

The group includes tourists who had been touring the country, including Cusco, before Peru shut down its borders and Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica) volunteers, but the exact number remains flexible, according to the embassy.

In the case there are more passengers than seats, the more vulnerable will be prioritized such as the elderly and pregnant women.

The passengers are expected to individually pay airfares estimated at around 3.77 million won ($2,900).

On March 15, Peru announced a state of emergency and said the next day it will shut its borders till the end of the month, leaving travelers stranded without notice.

Korean diplomats have been working to arrange a temporary flight for its nationals, many of them scattered throughout Peru. The Korean Foreign Ministry said last week there were over 170 Korean tourists in Peru including 92 travelers in the high-altitude southeastern city of Cusco.

However, getting all the travelers to the capital of Lima has been a tenuous process.

The embassy will be working to arrange buses to bring a group of Korean tourists from Cusco to Lima in time for the departure. They will be expected to pay an additional $400 for this leg of the journey.

Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young on Friday spoke by phone with Peru’s Vice Foreign Minister Jaime Antonio Pomareda Montenegro, and asked for Peru’s support to ensure the safe return of Korean tourists stranded in the country.

Pomareda promised to support Korean nationals’ safe departure from Peru in close consultation with the Korean Embassy in Peru.

The Peruvian government gave an exemption to foreign travelers to leave the country through a presidential decree last Wednesday.

The travelers coming from Peru will be tested for the coronavirus upon arrival in Korea. If one person tests positive, the group will be expected to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, according to a Foreign Ministry official.

Last Friday, a group of 76 Koica volunteers and Korean tourists and residents in Ecuador, also under lockdown, were able to depart the country on a temporary flight to Mexico, which has yet to close its borders. They were left to arrange their own flights to Korea from there. Many were able to book commercial flights from Mexico City to Los Angeles and back to Korea from Los Angeles.

As countries are locking down borders, restricting movement and suspending flights amid the global pandemic, Koreans are stranded across the globe including hundreds in Italy and other European countries as well as in the Philippines.

Initially, an association of Korean residents in Italy was arranging civilian chartered flights to Korea but encountered difficulties in negotiations.

Consequently the Korean government plans to send two chartered planes to Italy to fly out the Koreans wishing to leave sometime next week, as the situation in the country has been worsening rapidly.

So far some 650 Koreans in Italy said they wished to return to Korea, a senior Foreign Ministry official told reporters Monday, adding this number is fluctuating daily.

Surveys are underway by the Korean embassy and consulates in Spain, another country hit hard by the virus, on people who wish to return home.

“People need to first put their own effort into arranging commercial flights back home,” said the official. “We will be observing if such efforts are effective, which is what we did in the case of Italy.”

A group of 80 Koreans and their family members were evacuated from Iran on a government-chartered flight last Thursday and were tested. The entire group was then required to self-quarantine for two-weeks.

The government charters flights act as a last resort when other options including commercial flights and temporary routes are difficult. Passengers are expected to pay back their flight fares to the government.

The Foreign Ministry on Monday raised its special travel advisory by one notch to Level 2, warning Koreans to “refrain” from traveling to all countries or regions not covered by previous advisories for one month through April 23. It previously had a Level 1 alert warning Koreans to take “precautions.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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