The foreign secretary has announced a £75m airlift to rescue hundreds of thousands of British nationals stranded overseas by the coronavirus outbreak.
Following angry criticism of the Foreign Office over its failure to repatriate Brits abroad, Dominic Raab said the operation will consist of charter flights to “priority countries” and affordable seats on commercial airlines from countries where they are still running.
Raab said the government had reached an agreement with British Airways, Virgin, easyJet, Jet2 and Titan to help with the “unprecedented” operation.
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“Under the arrangements we are putting in place, we will target flights from a range of priority countries starting this week,” he said. “Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines will be responsible for getting passengers home. That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled.
“Where commercial flights are no longer running the government will provide financial support for special charter flights to bring UK nationals back at home.”
Raab told travellers not to wait and to book their tickets now even if it meant changing carrier, suggesting the government would subsidise flights.
The Foreign Office also said it would prioritise the charter flights according to the numbers of Brits stranded in a country and “their vulnerability, including an assessment of the local health provision”.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Raab’s package was little more than “vague promises”, adding that the foreign secretary was offering “none of the commitment or urgency other countries like Germany have put into this”.
Thornberry also said there were “no answers to any of the specific problems they are raising, from the loss of travel insurance and accommodation to dwindling supplies of medicine and money”.
The Daily Mail reports that many stranded Brits have found it “difficult, if not impossible” to buy commercial plane tickets, following widespread flight cancellations. Many of those who have found tickets have faced “steep prices”, the paper adds.
The Guardian says it is thought there are at least 9,000 Britons stranded in New Zealand, 4,000 in Bali, and tens of thousands more in other countries including India, Pakistan and Australia.
Knowing the exact number of people abroad is impossible, however, with the BBC noting that nobody knows how many Brits are travelling overseas at any one time because the UK does not require its citizens to register every time they leave.
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