As nations around the world shut their borders in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, American travelers have found themselves stranded.
In Peru, where President Martin Vizcarra issued a 15-day nationwide state of emergency and border closure Sunday, US travelers say hundreds are stuck in the country without a means of departure.
Kristin Monesmith, an emergency department nurse stuck in Cusco, told CNN that “the quarantine caught us by surprise.”
“I’m an emergency department nurse for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill,” she said. “I’m stuck and need to be in the States working!”
She said flights were almost immediately canceled. Harman Malhi, a University of Washington virology Ph.D. student who is also in Cusco, said he and his traveling group had tried to get to Lima “ASAP but there were no flights. Our hostel manager also told us that we would not be able to return if we left the hostel.”
“There was a lot of confusion,” he told CNN.
Jesse Curry, who is in Lima with his family, said they “went to bed Sunday and found out early Monday that the borders would be closed.”
“Tried like crazy to book any flight out of Peru, but couldn’t,” he told CNN.
‘A responsibility to try and help American citizens’
The stranded travelers have sought help with the US State Department and the US Embassy in Lima. Those who spoke with CNN say they have received minimal to no response.
“I received one response to a tweet; otherwise it’s been email auto replies and forever-ringing phones,” said Curry, who lives in Florida. “Even the emergency number just rang and rang.”
Malhi said he has been able to email American Citizens Services, “but all they can offer is an interpretation of the emergency decree.”
In a security alert posted Monday, the US Embassy said, “American Citizens who have not been able to reschedule their flights out of Peru should arrange lodging for the duration of the quarantine period.” In a tweet that same day, it said, “The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens is our top priority.” Last week, the State Department updated its travel advisory worldwide to recommend that US citizens reconsider international travel due to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that the State Department “has a responsibility to try and help American citizens wherever they are.”
“It’s not just about our officers serving in these distant places, protecting themselves and our team, but making sure we’re doing the right thing by the American people,” he said at the State Department. Pompeo offered no details about the department’s plans to assist citizens abroad. A State Department official told CNN they advised US citizens in Peru to monitor the embassy website, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and check with their airlines for updated information.
‘The uncertainty is the hardest part to deal with’
In the meantime, many of the travelers have banded together to try to figure out next steps. More than 150 of them are in a WhatsApp group called “We’re stuck (Americans)” and have used the forum to share information about the outreach to the government and possible ways out of the country.
“Currently, we are emailing and calling our states’ politicians, and spreading the word through social media in hopes of gathering attention,” Daniel Voznyarskiy, a Washington resident stuck in Cusco, told CNN.
The travelers who spoke with CNN said they are troubled by the uncertainty of the situation and have expressed concern that the quarantine could extend beyond 15 days.
“Our biggest worry is that these next 15 days won’t end there, and that there may be an extension, noting the country’s inability to handle such cases,” Voznyarskiy said.
Milagros Figueroa-Tetuan said she is concerned that her parents, who are in their 70s and visiting Peru, could be stuck if the quarantine continues into April.
“They have food, and medicines until April 15,” she said. “After that it will be a problem as my dad has heart issues.”
Malhi said they “are trying to make the most out of the situation, but the uncertainty is definitely stressful.
“We aren’t sure if we should pay to move to an Airbnb or if we should try and wait it out for the chance at a flight home.”
“The uncertainty is the hardest part to deal with,” Curry told CNN. He said that while he is a software developer and has been able to work remotely, his wife owns a bakery and his mother is a labor and delivery nurse.
“She’ll have an extra 14 days without work when we get back. She’s a little worried that her job may not be there when she can work,” he said.