UK’s £75m rescue operation ramps up with Algeria flight

The UK Government’s £75 million operation to charter rescue flights will be ramped up on Thursday as a plane brings stranded travellers home from Algeria.

British nationals will be able to return to the UK on the flight from the capital Algiers.

All commercial flights in and out of Algeria have been suspended for two weeks, and land borders are closed.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) announced on Monday it will charter flights from destinations around the world where commercial routes have been severed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Repatriation flights operated from Peru and Tunisia on Tuesday, but there were no flights on Wednesday.

The flight from Algiers will cost £186 per person.

The remainder of the cost will be met by taxpayers.

The FCO said the flight is only open to people who are “normally resident in the UK” and warned that “eligibility will be checked before tickets are issued”.

Among the other countries where chartered flights are expected to operate include India, South Africa, New Zealand and Nepal.

On March 23, the FCO advised all UK residents who were travelling abroad to return home.

Hundreds of thousands of people have since travelled back on commercial flights, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps estimates around 300,000 are still overseas.

Nicola Pollitt, British ambassador to Nepal, said the South Asian country is “on the list for charter flights” and insisted her team is “doing our best to get you on a flight”.

She added that the embassy had received more than 2,000 emails from stranded people in the past two weeks.

Jan Thompson, acting British high commissioner to India, posted a video on Twitter in which she said: “We are working flat out with airlines and with the relevant Indian authorities to get the flights in.

“I know how impatient you are to hear confirmed details of flights and I hope to have those details for you very soon.”

Nigel Casey, British high commissioner to South Africa, said he believes there are up to 7,500 British travellers currently in the country.

He told South African news website IOL Travel: “We are working closely with the South African government to ensure that British travellers get home safely.

“The South African government has offered us tremendous support during this time. Our engagements are ongoing.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that only 1,400 UK nationals had been repatriated on flights chartered by the Government.

In contrast, Air France said it has operated 200 flights to repatriate French nationals from 82 countries since March 14.

The German embassy in London told The Guardian that its government has brought home 42,000 German nationals from 60 countries on 160 charter flights over the past fortnight.

Many British travellers have reported being unable to reach airports because internal transport networks have been closed down as countries implement Covid-19 lockdowns.

Among the British citizens waiting to be flown home are many stranded in Peru.

Sophia Diaz Melendez, a 27-year-old NHS nurse living in Southampton, is struggling to travel back from the capital Lima.

She was allocated a seat on a repatriation flight but received her notification too late.

She said: “They (the FCO) sent me documentation about the flight 30 minutes before the deadline and I couldn’t get there because I’m staying far from the airport.

“It’s really frustrating – I feel like I’ve lost my chance.”

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