By Laura Gamba
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) - Fourteen Colombians trapped in China amid its deadly coronavirus outbreak have been pleading with their government to send a plane for them as other Latin American countries have done for their citizens.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement released Friday that a flight to repatriate Colombians is scheduled to arrive on Feb. 22.
Authorities reported that three possible evacuation routes have been designed with "the least number of stops."
“Eight requests for overflights were issued to countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Spain, India and the United Arab Emirates, among others, and Colombia is awaiting their responses,” it said.
According to the press release, it takes more than 30 hours to fly between Wuhan city in Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, where some of the Colombians are located, and Colombia with the required stops.
"The aircraft must have the necessary size and space to comply with the recommended health protocols, including the distance that must be maintained between passengers,” it said.
The plane’s crew will include Ministry of Health and Red Cross medical personnel who will be in charge of complying with the quarantine orders upon arrival in the country.
Colombian ambassador to China Luis Diego Monsalve said the government failed to evacuate Colombians from China by land on Feb. 5 because it did not obtain the necessary approvals from the Chinese authorities.
Traveling by land in Hubei province is an ordeal in the midst of the public health emergency. Airports, terminals, universities, schools, offices and shops are closed and only supermarkets and pharmacies with government permission remain open.
Some of the Colombians living in Wuhan are studying while others are working. Many of them said they feel overwhelmed and abandoned by the government.
"Most of my American, French, Polish and Libyan friends have already been evacuated. I wonder, ‘Why am I still here?’ Doesn't my government care about me?" Maria Fernanda Guerrero, 20, told Semana magazine.
Citizens from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic were already evacuated on a Ukrainian plane that left last week and will spend their quarantine time in that country. "There's no longer any excuse not to get us across the continent. We are just asking to be taken out of the epidemic’s epicenter," Guerrero said.
Many of them have even offered to pay for their return plane tickets.
Meanwhile, the embassy is providing masks and offering psychological support. It is also handling immigration documentation and seeking permits to leave the country. But as the passengers prepare to travel, some of them are criticizing the government for taking too long to react.
First Colombian case confirmed
The Foreign Ministry confirmed on Feb. 17 that a Colombian citizen who was on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan as part of the crew tested positive for the coronavirus, now known officially as COVID-19.
“The Colombian embassy in Japan learned that a Colombian citizen tested positive for the coronavirus and that the person will be disembarked as a precautionary measure following local medical protocols,” said the press release.
Authorities have confirmed that there are no records of other Colombian citizens in Japan with the virus.