Coronavirus repatriation: What should you do if you are stuck abroad?

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British Airways aircraft (file photo)Image source, Reuters

Many countries around the world have closed their borders to help combat coronavirus, often at short notice.

As a result, many Britons on holiday or travelling abroad for work have become stranded. The British government has made new plans to help bring these people back to the UK.

What is the government doing to help?

It has come to an arrangement with a number of airlines to fly Britons back to the UK. This includes a pledge of £75m to charter flights to places where commercial flights have stopped running.

British Airways, Virgin, EasyJet, Jet2 and Titan Airways are part of the new efforts, and the government says other airlines may be added.

The Foreign Office has also boosted staff numbers at its dedicated call centre.

What should you do if commercial flights are still operating?

The message is clear - try to book a flight as soon as possible, before travel routes close.

You are advised to contact your airline as soon as possible to get on the first available flight. But where routes have been cancelled, the government says the airline has a responsibility to offer alternatives flights. This includes allowing passengers to change tickets - including between carriers - incurring "little or no cost".

What is not clear, however, is whether those carriers need to be part of the agreement outlined by the government.

How about if there are no commercial flights?

Special charter flights will be arranged to repatriate Britons stuck in what it described as priority countries, where no commercial routes remain open.

The government did not identify priority countries, but a spokesperson told the BBC that India and South Africa were among them.

When charter flights become available, they will be advertised by the embassy or high commission on their travel advice pages and social media channels. You should sign up for alerts.

There are few details at the moment, but online bookings will be made through a travel management company.

They will not be free, but the government says they will be capped at what it described as an reasonable rate, proportionate to the cost of a normal flight from the destination to the UK.

The elderly or those with pressing medical needs will be prioritised.

What has the government already done?

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government had already helped to bring 150,000 people back from Spain, 8,500 from Morocco and 5,000 from Cyprus.

Last week it chartered flights to bring some Britons stranded in Peru home.

But the Foreign Office had faced criticism for not helping stranded tourists sooner.

Some of the 400 stuck in Peru also complained they had been told to book a commercial flight home at 10-times the price of a normal ticket, before the government stepped in to repatriate them,

It has also chartered special flights from China, Japan, Cuba and Ghana.

While there are no official figures of how many Britons travel abroad each year, hundreds of thousands remain overseas.