Around 500 French tourists who have been stranded in Argentina since commercial flights were suspended are scheduled to take a humanitarian plane home on Saturday, a return trip that for many that has becomean ordeal.
From the Argentine city of Ushuaia – after travelling 3,200 kilometres by bus and passing four borders, because the land route to Buenos Aires requires passing through Chile – some 50 French tourists arrived in the capital after four days of travel with the hope of boarding the plane that was to leave this Friday, a source from the French embassy told AFP.
But when the humanitarian flight was postponed until this Saturday, they suffered a long wait on top for a bus to the Ezeiza international airport (30 km south), until they were finally allowed to move to a hotel where they would spend the night, with the promise of not leaving.
According to a source, throughout their journey, the group was delayed "about 40,000 times" by police operations, in which their temperature was taken to check their state of health, a measure that many Europeans considered extreme.
Dozens of other tourists arrived from El Calafate, 2,700 km south, and from Santa Fe, 500 km north. They are part of the 445-strong contingent that will embark on Saturday on its way back to France.
The rest will arrive on the same Saturday from other Argentine tourist destinations in buses dispatched by the French Embassy, as domestic flights have been suspended.
"These are people who have been in Argentina for more than 14 days stranded and in confinement and should be treated better," said the source who, however, highlighted the collaboration of the Foreign Ministry, the Ministries of Tourism and Security, and the City Hall.
On 12 March, the government of Alberto Fernández suspended international flights from the areas most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, including those from European countries, for 30 days. Only a few flights were maintained to repatriate Argentines, which were eventually suspended as well.
As of March 17, domestic flights were also almost completely cancelled.
"When the flights were suspended, there were 2,150 French tourists. At first, when there were still some commercial flights, we tried to get as many as possible to leave, but a few days ago there were still about 500 scattered around the country," the diplomatic source said.
Argentines are in mandatory social isolation from March 20 until at least April 13, and anyone who fails to comply can be arrested and heavily fined.
In Argentina there are 1,265 infected people, of which 37 died, according to the latest official report this Friday morning.