Coronavirus: Britons overseas should return home now, foreign secretary says

Call comes six days after advice to avoid all non-essential travel abroad

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 23 March 2020 19:01
Coronavirus in numbers

Six days after the Foreign Office first warned against non-essential travel anywhere abroad, the government has urged British travellers to come home.

When the foreign secretary announced the no-go advice on 17 March, it stopped short of recommending that UK citizens abroad should return.

But as an array of flight bans has taken effect around the world, the official advice has changed.

UK citizens are now being told: “All British travellers abroad who are usually based in the UK advised to return now.

“International travel is becoming highly limited with the further closure of air routes, land borders and domestic restrictions introduced daily. “

It covers only British tourists and short-stay travellers currently abroad rather than UK citizens living and working overseas.

The government has been seeking international action to keep air routes open for a sufficient period of time to enable international travellers to return on commercial flights, but that game appears to be up.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “Around the world, more airlines are suspending flights and more airports are closing, some without any notice.

“Where commercial routes don’t exist, our staff are working round the clock to give advice and support to UK nationals.

“If you are on holiday abroad, the time to come home is now while you still can.”

While British travellers are being told to contact their tour operator or airline “to arrange a commercial flight if they want to leave”, for many travellers in long-haul destinations, the call has come too late.

Earlier today, the UAE announced a flight ban will take effect on Wednesday 25 March. That will have the effect of closing the world’s leading aviation hub Dubai, on which many travellers were relying for homeward flights.

Instead, Emirates will ground all passenger flights – along with its Abu Dhabi-based rival, Etihad.

Singapore has also closed its airport to transit passengers.

Repatriation flights are continuing from various points in Europe, with the Foreign Office working to return travellers from popular tourist locations. In addition, a significant number of scheduled flights are still operating to and from the Continent.

Britons who are permanent resident overseas are urged to follow the advice of the local authorities in their host country.

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