Coronavirus: UK government to fly stranded Britons home

Tens of thousands of Britons are stranded around the world.
Tens of thousands of Britons are stranded around the world. Photo credit: Reuters

The UK Government will spend £75 million (NZ$154 million) flying Brits stranded abroad home, including those in New Zealand.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented shutdown of borders around the world, leaving thousands of people unable to return to their home countries.

The drop in international travel has also left countless airlines struggling for survival, with many commercial air routes now barely served at all.

With tens of thousands of Britons stranded outside the country, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced on Tuesday (NZ time) that the government had reached an agreement with airlines to fly its citizens home.

"I've spoken to more than 20 foreign ministers around the world in the last week or so to support this effort to keep airports and ports open and to facilitate access to them by British travellers," Raab said. "Over the weekend I spoke to foreign ministers from Australia, New Zealand, India and Brazil and Pakistan. I also spoke to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, and in all of those cases urged them to work with us to keep commercial routes flying.

"Given the scale and complexity of this challenge, it inevitable requires a team effort."

Among the airlines that would be cooperating were British Airways, Virgin, EasyJet, Jet2 and Titan.

Raab said an "unprecedented" number of British travellers were unable to get home.

"We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people travelling around the world."

Airlines would fly those stranded where commercial routes had been cancelled "at little or no cost", Raad said, adding that the move would cost around £75 million.

There are more than 9000 Britons registered for repatriation in New Zealand.

In a video message shared on Twitter on Sunday, British High Commissioner in New Zealand Laura Clarke said it would take time to organise repatriating citizens due to the lockdown here.

"The New Zealand government level-four COVID guidance is now absolutely clear in limiting domestic flights and transport to essential workers only. That means if you are not close to your departure airport you are going to struggle to get on an international flight home," Clarke said.

Raab encouraged all Brits to book flights home without delay if commercial flights were available.

There have been more than 22,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK, with 1400 lives lost to the virus so far.

Globally more than 35,000 deaths have been recorded.