COVID-19 travel bans leave hundreds stranded at Brazil's largest airport

COVID-19 travel bans leave hundreds stranded at Brazil's largest airport

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Brazil
Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Brazil

SAO PAULO: Stefany Carvallido, her 2-year-old daughter and about 200 other Colombians have been camping out inside Brazil's busiest international airport for days in a desperate attempt to get back to their home country.

More than two months after the coronavirus pandemic triggered worldwide lockdowns, much of the world is gradually reopening. But Latin America remains highly isolated by travel restrictions across the region.

Colombia has suspended all international flights until at least Aug 31, preventing its own citizens from returning by air. It has also suspended river and land border crossings with neighbours including Brazil.

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Carvallido said she and her daughter Maria Jose had spent nearly two weeks at Guarulhos International Airport, located on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, the city with the lion's share of Brazil's coronavirus cases so far. The same airport saw a surge in traffic last week, when travelers descended on it hoping to beat a new United States ban on foreigners coming from Brazil.

"In this situation, we want to be with our families and my daughter wants it too ... It is very, very difficult," said Carvallido, shedding tears.

Carvallido, 24, and others are eating from lunch boxes and donations and also take turns at an improvised kitchen set up outside the airport. They wash in the airport bathrooms using a small hose.

They are demanding humanitarian flights. But Colombia's foreign ministry said on Thursday (May 28) no new flights from Brazil were scheduled until next week. Since late April there have been three such flights, taking a total of 346 people back to Colombia.

Though called humanitarian, Colombians must pay US$350 for the flights, and that is money Carvallido and many others at the airport do not have. Their calls for a free flight home have led nowhere so far.

"Under current regulations, this request is not possible," the Colombian consulate in Sao Paulo said in a statement.

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Source: Reuters/dv