Peru and Morocco have emerged as two of the biggest travel blackspots as thousands of British travellers struggle to get home because of coronavirus flight cancellations.
Both countries have imposed travel lockdowns with no sign of any UK repatriation operation. It comes after Germany launched a €50m airlift to get its citizens home.
Edd Webster, from Buxton in Derbyshire, who is in the Peruvian capital of Lima, said the closure of the British embassy the day after emergency quarantine measures were imposed “created a lot of hysteria” with no official representatives to turn to.
Through two Whatsapp groups for travellers centred around the Peruvian capital and around the city of Cusco in the Andes, he has established there are more than 400 Britons stranded in hostels, Airbnbs and hotels in Peru.
He and others set up an online form to try and establish where everyone was. “We started the data collection getting people’s name, citizenship and date of birth because the Foreign Office didn’t seem to be doing anything,” he said.
“We have 234 people in the group in Lima and one [group] of 198 in Cusco, but I think that’s only the tip of the iceberg, I have seen it said there could be 12,000 Britons in Peru,” he said.
Everyone including foreign nationals is subject to a strict quarantine in Peru, with bars, hotels and restaurants closed.
Ellie Harper, 32, said “lots of people have been confined to their rooms”, and that there have been reports of police entering hostels trying to arrest people who have been drinking. “We need MPs to support us,” she said. “People are thinking, if I’m going to be stuck here for eight months do I have the money?”
Webster said the embassy had reopened and lots of work was going on behind the scenes, but the “problem was communications”.
The group in Peru have contacted dozens of MPs calling for help. One, the Conservative MP for Beckenham, Bob Stewart, replied: “I wish I could give you more re-assurance but, alas, I cannot. The best of luck.”
Thousands of British holidaymakers also fear being stranded in Morocco after the country imposed a travel ban to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The Moroccan tourist board said it had authorised 100 “rescue” flights, but Britons told of chaos at Marrakech and Agadir airports caused by a lack of information from airlines and the embassy struggling to cope with the scale of repatriation.
The government said it was working with the airline industry to ensure they can continue to get British nationals stuck abroad back to the UK.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We are extremely grateful to airport and airline teams who are continuing to help passengers get home safely. We stand firmly behind the sector and expect to announce a series of support measures shortly.
“But we also need to send a message to any British passengers overseas who are planning to return to the UK soon – it’s important to take account of the fast-moving situation and plan accordingly while flights remain available in many places.”
The British ambassador in Rabat, Thomas Reilly, has been scrambling to try to help those stranded, and some described his efforts as “nothing short of incredible”, but others said the support on offer was “useless”.
Reilly tweeted: “I know this is horrible for you guys. We are doing everything we can.” He advised stranded Britons to follow @UKinmorocco and the embassy’s Facebook page.
Some concerns have been raised for elderly or vulnerable people with medical conditions. One person tweeted: “My parents are in Agadir airport, no one at the airport knows anything. Can’t get through to easyJet. I know this isn’t easy thing to manage but they were due to fly [Saturday], no flights after midnight tomorrow, hotel closing [Saturday], where will they go? My mum needs new meds Sunday.”
A woman who contacted the Guardian said she was worried about her asthmatic mother and her 72-year-old husband, who had been at Marrakech airport for hours.
Sarah Spurling wrote: “They were told their BA flight tomorrow (and all BA flights) cancelled, no flights available with other carriers and to ‘contact the embassy’. When I got through to the Foreign Office they told me to follow the ambassador’s Facebook page which had the most up to date info; the FO said they were ‘trying to confirm where the ambassador got his information that rescue flights were being laid on from’ which has made me extremely anxious.
“The French government seem to have laid on repatriation flights, apparently the Germans at the airport say the same.”