US evacuating Americans from Morocco, as bans to block virus strand thousands abroad

KeithBinns/iStock(NEW YORK) — The U.S. has arranged chartered flights to evacuate Americans out of Morocco, according to an alert sent by the embassy and obtained by ABC News.

Hundreds of Americans have been stuck in the North Africa country for days after the government announced Sunday it would shut down all travel in and out to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus — one of many governments to do so on short notice, leaving Americans stranded and urging local U.S. embassies for help.

“People are running out of medications. We’re stressed and exhausted,” said Joyce Graham, one of between 150 and 200 U.S. senior citizens on tour with the company Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT. “It’s unconscionable of our government to allow this to happen.”

The State Department issued an unprecedented worldwide alert Thursday, telling all Americans “do not travel” and those already overseas to return to the U.S. immediately or possibly be trapped abroad for an “indefinite period.”

But in Morocco, as well as Peru, Madagascar, Moldova and several other countries, there are no commercial options to get out, with Americans asking the U.S. for an evacuation flight, as it did five times from Wuhan, China — the original novel coronavirus hot zone — and twice for passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

Generally, the State Department does not evacuate Americans, issuing warnings for weeks now that they said they should “have a travel plan that does not rely on the U.S. Government for assistance.”

But the situation in Morocco has been particularly difficult. The government moved to close its borders Sunday, banning commercial flights in and out of the country. Hundreds of Americans, if not thousands, suddenly saw their flights in the days and weeks get canceled. The Moroccan government worked with a couple airliners and the British and French governments for some final emergency flights, the last of which was scheduled to leave Thursday, but most of those seats went to Europeans, with only a few dozen Americans aboard.

Neither Art Goldberg nor Sarajane Johnson, who had been on an OAT tour of the country with 12 other Americans, were one of them.

“From all appearances, we agree that there seems to be no one from the U.S. consulate or embassy who cares about these U.S. citizens trying to get home,” Goldberg told ABC News on Thursday.

But hours later and after days of outcry, the embassy announced Friday morning in Marrakesh that flights, chartered on British Airways by the State Department, would begin departing the city later that day.

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents will fly first to London Heathrow Airport, where they will have to spend one night before heading onward to one of 10 U.S. airports: Miami, Los Angeles, Newark, Boston, Washington Dulles, Chicago, John F. Kennedy in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, or Dallas-Fort Worth. The one-way ticket will cost $1,485 per person — with passengers obligated to sign a promissory note to get on board.

It’s unclear how many flights there will be in total, but the embassy notice says that there will be enough to ensure everyone gets out, with more flights possible on Saturday.

For many Americans, including Art and Sarajane, they had just traveled to Casablanca by bus to try to escape through its larger airport — only to now have to turn back around to Marrakesh. The embassy alert asked Americans to list the earliest possible time they could get to Marrakesh International, with flights departing at 12:30 p.m. local time every hour after that.

“We’re just very frustrated that the State Department hasn’t stepped up and sent in planes for us. How many people have to call them, email, go on TV for our government to do something?” said Graham, exasperated after shuttling back and forth on hours-long bus rides between Moroccan cities and waiting for hours at airports, only to not get a seat.

But while Americans will finally be able to leave Morocco, there are still thousands stuck elsewhere around the world, particularly in Peru, where a sign-up spreadsheet has over 1,500 Americans listed.

President Donald Trump said Thursday the U.S. military would assist Americans in Peru, without saying how or why not in other countries. The Pentagon’s Southern Command referred questions to the White House.

Like Morocco, Peru suddenly shut down international travel and put the country into a 15-day quarantine earlier this week. Americans touring Cusco or hiking to Machu Pichu had no way to get to an international airport, let alone on a flight out of the country.

But Trump’s remarks seemed to blame them for being “late,” angering several Americans who spoke to ABC News.

“They got caught. They were late with their flights. We gave them a period of time. They didn’t make it,” Trump said.

Shannon Malone said that’s not true, pointing out she had two flights booked, but one was canceled and the other pushed back until the quarantine ended.

“Trump was obviously talking out of his a** at the presser to sound like he was doing something,” she told ABC News.

It seems unlikely at this point there will be evacuation flights from Peru. While Trump said the military would help, he said it would not be for evacuations, and the U.S. embassy in Lima has been posting the phone numbers of international airliners and calling for Americans to sign up for a notification from Avianca, the Colombian airline, about possible flights to the U.S. in the future.

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