Stranded Americans in Peru told border to close Sunday

With hundreds of Americans stranded in Peru, the country's defense minister said that Saturday is the last day the government will support the return of foreigners from the country before declaring the border "closed permanently" because of the coronavirus situation.

Defense Minister Walter Martos said in an interview with Canal N that President Martín Vizcarra, who had initially closed the borders March 15, had ordered all airports and borders closed completely as of Sunday and will take a "much stricter measure," El Comercio reported Saturday.

Israel brought in planes on Thursday to take out hundreds of its citizens and Canada was repatriating many of its citizens Saturday.

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Jared Anderson, a 37-year-old New Yorker who flew to Peru on March 10 to visit his girlfriend, is one of the Americans stuck behind closed borders and under a 15-day quarantine. He said the U.S. Embassy has told them they are essentially on their own.

Stranded Americans in Peru told border to close Sunday

Anderson spoke to USA TODAY on Friday, only hours after Israeli planes brought out its citizens.

Anderson said it is almost impossible to reach anyone on a U.S. Embassy phone in Lima and when he has, the embassy says "we are pretty much told this was the situation and you've got to figure it out."

After an outcry from individuals and members of Congress, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the department is using "all of the tools we can" to bring Americans home, including a mix of commercial and private flights. He said the agency is also discussing with the Pentagon the possibility of employing military aircraft.

He said State Department has put together a "repatriation task force," which is working on reports from individual citizens and members of Congress, and is urging stranded travelers to log in to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

"We'll track you and try to get everybody back," Pompeo said.

Stranded Americans in Peru told border to close Sunday

The U.S. military’s Southern Command said Friday that it was flying 89 U.S. citizens from Honduras to Charleston, South Carolina, after they were unable to return home because of the virus outbreak in the second Air Force Mission to bring people from Honduras, the Associated Press reported.

Anderson is in Lima, but said many of the Americans are scattered around the country particularly near the popular tourist destination of Machu Picchu and jungle cities of Iquitos and Pucallpa.

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The personal and tourist trips were disrupted when the Peruvian president closed the border on March 15 and issued a strict, 15-day, stay-indoors quarantine – for the entire country.

Stranded Americans in Peru told border to close Sunday

Pauline Saade, from Cliffside, New Jersey, tells USA TODAY that she and 12 other "self-isolating" Americans and Canadians are stuck in the town of Pisac in south-central Peru, where they have been since Feb. 24.

Saade, 38, said that the Canadians were contacted by their embassy on Friday and were getting picked up Saturday to take them to Cusco to get a flight home. 

She said the U.S. Embassy had come up short in their efforts to get out.

"There’s lack of consistent information, lack of resources to get us out from point A to point B, lack of leadership, lack of seamless communications between countries and most important compassion to do what’s right to get us home to our families so we can get through this difficult time in our homes surrounded by our loved ones," she said.

Saade also said she had spent hours online and on the phone trying to rebook her flight or talk to a carrier representative.

She added that those stranded there were having to pay up to $100 a night "in order for us to safely stay here."

"I understand our leaders are doing what they can to contain the virus and protect people with compromised immune systems," Saade said. "I just wish the communication between countries like Peru and U.S. were more organized and efficient so the process of getting people out to there families can be achieved."

Anderson said the Americans in his group are confined to a hotel, following a rigorous 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. He said only one person from a family is allowed to go for groceries and must buy them and return directly.

The group has even started a Facebook page called Americans Stuck in Peru.

He said the group includes a pregnant woman, elderly people and one person with Lyme disease.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has been pressing the State Department for help in repatriating three Oregonians stranded in Peru. 

"He has been told a task force is working to extract all Americans overseas, and he remains determined to make sure this task force translates into action that gives all Americans trying to leave Peru, and any and all other countries, clear guidance and urgently needed assistance to bring them home," a spokesman for Wyden said on Saturday.

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Jason Gramling, from Milwaukee, said on the Facebook page that he is stuck there with his wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 10.

"Please, we need to get out of here and get back home," he wrote. "We have a place to stay but very soon will be running out of money and food and I won't know what we will be able to do.please I don't want to die here."

"My children are scared because there will be nothing to eat soon," he wrote.

"What we don't know is what is happening," Anderson said. "The good news is that the grocery stores have food, but the medical care system is very different than the American standard and a little bit scary."

"A lot of us are in good spirits and definitely ready to come home and be with family," he said.

Contributing: Associated Press

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