Grantham man and his girlfriend trapped in Peru after borders closed because of coronavirus outbreak
A young couple have recorded a video highlighting their desperate situation as they remain trapped in Peru after the borders were closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Luke Martin, from Grantham, and his girlfriend Jessica Stafford, both 25, gave up their jobs and left the UK in January to travel around South America. But now they are stuck in the Peruvian city of Cusco after the government closed the country's borders and imposed an overnight curfew.
The couple say they have received no help from the UK government and the only hope of getting out of the country is to pay £3,000 each for a flight back to the UK which they can't afford.
Luke's sister, Sophie Nicholson, says she and other members of the couple's families have been trying to get hold of airlines in a bid to get them back home, but without success. Tjhey have been left waiting on the phone for hours trying to secure flights and on at least one occasion cut off.
Sophie, 28, of Bridge End Grove, Grantham, is looking after her three young children in self-isolation at home because she suffers from severe asthma. She says her brother and his girlfriend are getting increasingly worried about the situation in Peru.
Sophie said: "They are scared about what is happening out there. We have tried the Foreign Office and our local MP who has passed it on to the FCO but nothing is being done. They were supposed to be flying to Ecuador but when they heard that the borders were to close they booked a flight back home. But before they could get on the flight the government closed the borders. The airline had allowed them to book the flights knowing the borders were going to close."
Sophie said Luke and Jessica, like many other travellers, were being taken advantage of and being charged astronomical amounts by airlines to get them out of the country.
Sophie described the situation as 'horrific' and said the couple were further frustrated by the curfew which only allowed people out individually which was frightening for them both.
Luke and Jessica, who lives in Newark, had already visited Brazil and Argentina before reaching Cusco where thousands of visitors stay each year in order to go on and visit the Inca ruins at Macchu Picchu. They have had to rent an apartment while stuck in Cusco.
Luke, who quit work to travel, said: "We are trying to bring as much attention as possible to our situation as we know there are others in the same scenario and we feel more can be done to help us get home.
"We arrived in Peru on March 5, arrived in Cusco on the 7th, and we did Machu Picchu from 10th to 12th. Then as of Sunday, things were happening really quickly.
"Due to the escalating coronavirus situation we phoned the British Embassy for advice at 11am.
"The lady we spoke to said she couldn't give us any official advice as there wasn't an official travel ban in place, however, on a personal note she advised that we try to get home."
Having made the decision to curtail their trip of a lifetime, the couple hurriedly tried to book a new flight with Latam Airlines.
They finally managed to book one after being hit by unavailability and escalating prices, only for the Peruvian president to make an announcement that everyone had until the end of Monday to flee the country, before the borders were closed and it was in lockdown for 15 days.
"At 11pm, we contacted the British Embassy again asking for advice," said Jessica, who worked for England' Finest Photography in Grantham before travelling.
"We stated we had limited funds due to having to book new flights home and the advice they gave us was to stop booking flights and chasing rumours, which wasn't helpful.
"All night we tried to contact Latam Airlines with help from our families at home, however, their customer service is basically non existent and we couldn't get through.
"First thing on Monday, we went to the Latam Airlines office in Cusco at 7.50am.
"The office was due to open at 9am and there were queues of people, but we were then informed the office would remain closed all day."
The couple went straight to Cusco Airport where there were more crowds, and they were refused entry by police because they didn't have a boarding pass to fly that day.
After a lot of persuasion, Jessica said officers let one of them inside to then find out there were no flights, and that three international ones had been cancelled to make room for domestic flights.
"The best we could do was change our existing flights from March 18/19 to April 1/2 when the lockdown is currently scheduled to be lifted," she said.
In response to the situation in Peru, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says: "Due to the State of Emergency, embassy staff are working remotely and are in constant contact with the local authorities, commercial airlines and other diplomatic missions to support all possible options that would enable the return of British nationals in Peru.
"Peru is now processing diplomatic requests to enable flights to be exempted from the curfew. The British Embassy continues to work closely with the Peruvian authorities and commercial airlines on all possible options for a return to the UK for British nationals in Peru. As part of their efforts, they are inviting British people in Peru to send their full name, location and best form of contact (ideally email address) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"They will use this information to inform British nationals of the availability of outgoing flights secured through diplomatic permissions, which exempt them from the State of Emergency lockdown. They will communicate this to those who have contacted the Embassy via email@example.com and through social media channels.
"In the meantime it is important that all UK nationals stay in close touch with their airlines and tour operators where they have them to ensure their reservations, whether in the past or the future, are logged in the airlines own assumptions about the number of people waiting to return to the UK.
"During this period the Peruvian authorities have also confirmed that fees will be waived for overstays on visas owing to the State of Emergency.
"During the State of Emergency, we advise you find secure accommodation for the confirmed period of 15 days. IPERU, the Peruvian Tourism Information Agency, is offering details of suitable accommodation options here.
"All British nationals in Peru should follow the advice of the Peruvian authorities and abide by the measures in put in place."
More by this authorGraham Newton