Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that a passenger jet will be sent to Peru to begin evacuating Israelis that were stranded in the South American country when it shut its borders in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Peruvian authorities would provide a police escort as the first planeload of Israelis were brought home by El Al free of charge. The operation was being conducted under “the principle of mutual responsibility under which the State of Israel operates in a time of national emergency,” he said.
Most of the stranded Israelis are young, post-army tourists, many of whom had cancelled trips to the Far East to avoid the coronavirus outbreak, which originated there.
However, when Peru was hit with the virus, borders were closed within just 24 hours, leaving travelers unable to make arrangements in time to return to Israel. On Sunday night, Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra declared a state of emergency, placing military and law enforcement in the streets and forbidding people to leave their homes except to buy groceries or medications.
Limited flights from popular Israeli backpacking spot Cusco to the international airport in Lima were snapped up quickly, with the last tickets being sold for prices far exceeding most backpackers’ budgets, according to Haaretz.
In addition, many of the flights back to Israel were through countries with high rates of coronavirus infection.
The Israelis that were unable to make it out of the country were placed in lockdown in youth hostels or rented apartments. An offer on Monday by Israeli search and rescue firm Magnus was rejected by the travelers, according to Haaretz, due to notification by the organization that it would not take responsibility for their safety, despite evacuation plans including a 20-hour overnight bus trip from Cusco to Lima on a mountain road nicknamed the “Death Route.”
Parents of the hundreds of young travelers bombarded the Foreign Ministry with requests for help, leading Katz to begin an official evacuation effort.
Financial arrangements for the second plane are still in progress.