‘Insane’: Family’s $30k virus flight
A young Australian family trapped in Peru fear for the welfare of their two daughters, who are quickly running out of food and milk as the COVID-19 lockdown grips the country.
Alex Wallace and Geneva Meldrum, along with their little girls Rose and Arabella and Geneva's parents Robyn and David travelled to Peru earlier this month for a wedding on March 14, 2020.
But within 24 hours of the celebration concluding, the young family from Sydney's northern beaches have been facing a traumatic battle to get out of the country and back in to Australia.
Speaking to news.com.au, Ms Meldrum said she and her family faced an agonising wait to get out of the country after their charter flight got cancelled and is yet to be rescheduled.
After finding out that Peru would be closing their borders in response to the global coronavirus pandemic late on Sunday, March 15, her husband and father raced to Lima airport to try and secure tickets for the family to return to Sydney.
But they were too late, and have been trapped in the country ever since.
"They waited at the airport all night in a line to be told all tickets were sold out," she said.
"The next morning we were very anxious. We contacted our travel agent because we didn't know what was going on. My mother went to the Latam (airline) office in Lima, but it was locked and no one was there.
"We didn't know what to do."
Ms Meldrum said she and her family contemplated simply jumping on a flight to Mexico or Chile, but feared a similar lockdown would happen and they'd be facing the same predicament.
After speaking with her travel agent and receiving advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs, she found out that an Australia-based travel agency called Chimu were looking to do a humanitarian journey out of the capital, given the Peruvian government had put a ban on all commercial flights.
"We discovered we could buy tickets at $5k per person," she said.
"Our first date for departure was March 24th, then that was moved to March 27th which is now delayed again with no set date. So we are waiting. It's scary."
Ms Meldrum's story is being echoed by more than 300 Australians, including children, who are trapped in Peru. Many say they feel abandoned by the Australian government.
Twenty-one-year-old Stephanie Boticki, who is also stuck in Peru and has no idea when she can fly back to Australia, said has no idea when she will make it back to Australia.
She told news.com.au that she felt let down by the government, especially when Prime Minister Scott Morrison said DFAT was assisting Australians abroad.
"We feel very let down by the government," she told news.com.au.
"There is no Australian embassy in Peru because it's closed. We called the 24-hour emergency helpline in Canberra, but they just told us to go find some accommodation and wait until the quarantine is over. I'm sorry but that's not good enough."
Peru's current nationwide curfew between 8pm and 5am daily means everyone is required to stay indoors during that time for the next 15 days. Most Australians who are trapped are based in the capital Lima or Cusco, which sits near the famous Inca ruins Machu Picchu.
Ms Meldrum and her family, however, are stranded in Cieneguilla which sits an hour outside of Lima.
She said she fears her family will run out of food because of the lack of supermarkets in the town, and because only residents with a permit are able to book a driver.
"We are running out of stuff," she said.
"I'm most concerned about my kids getting sick here. We don't have a car and don't have a driver who can drive us. We have no nappies for my two year old, so it's really hard and stressful.
"My 4 year old isn't sleeping and asks when we will get home. So it's not nice."
In a statement on Chimu Adventure's website, the tourism provider said they are working with DFAT to find a way of bringing Australians home.
"Chimu Adventures has been working with DFAT and Australian embassies in South America to prepare repatriation flights from South America for Australian citizens and permanent residents," the company's statement read.
"These flights have been open to all eligible Australians and not just Chimu Adventures' clients.
"Currently, we are trying to organise one repatriation flight from Lima and Cusco and one flight from Buenos Aires, it is important to note these are not commercial flights, we stipulate, these are repatriation flights."
The company says that while aircraft have been secured for both flights, a flight date is still not confirmed but they expect to depart "late this week".
"Success depends on international government authorisations," the statement read.
"The airports in Peru have been closed (however) at this point, this does not affect these repatriation flight as they are currently scheduled to depart from a military base.
"We are at the mercy of all authorities to secure the time and date and rest assured we are doing everything in our power to have this confirmed."
Ms Meldrum paid a total of $30,000 for six tickets. An outlay Chimu Adventures says will be reimbursed should the flight operation be cancelled.
The concerned mother, who has been feeding her toddler long-life milk as toddler formula is no longer available, said she just wants clarification on when - and if - they will be able to return to Australia.
"We just want to know when they will let the plane leave and why other countries are getting repatriated but we aren't," she said.
On Thursday, Diana Nelson - the Australian Ambassador to Peru and Bolivia - gave advice on how Australians trapped in the country can stay "safe and comfortable during quarantine lockdown".
"It's really important whenever you are leaving your accommodation you take your identification," she explained.
"Supermarkets, at least in Lima, are very well stocked. Please be aware that supermarkets are requiring you to wear face masks.
"The embassy is open, however we are working remotely because staff need to work from home."
Previously, the Australian Government has organised evacuation flights for Australians caught in the Wuhan lockdown and for passengers on the stricken cruise ship the Diamond Princess in Japan.
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Originally published as 'Insane': Family's $30k virus flight