An Auckland couple who arrived home from Peru this morning after a marathon journey say the Government needs to step up to help the scores of Kiwis trapped there due to Covid-19.
There are more than 90 New Zealanders registered as being in the South American country, which with less than 24 hours' notice went into lockdown on March 16, shutting down its borders.
Ian and Vicki Phillips, property valuers from Auckland, were stuck in the capital Lima after they were bumped off their departure flight on March 16.
After nearly a week living in lockdown, with military patrolling the streets, they managed to get two of the last seats on a tour company's charter flight to Miami, United States, on Saturday.
From there they flew to Houston, where they got on one of the last Air New Zealand flights leaving the city and arrived in Auckland at 6am today.
"It was mixed emotions when we landed," Phillips told the Herald.
"We are hugely relieved to be home and closer to our family, but there was a tinge of sadness as there are a lot of New Zealanders left behind, and probably a lot who cannot afford the money to get home."
With airlines closing down and borders rapidly closing there are few viable options remaining to return home, with one private Australian charter quoting more than A$10,000 per person - but with no guarantees they will even be able to get passengers to New Zealand.
Phillips said their charter cost US$900 each to get to the States, and another US$1900 to get back to New Zealand.
"We were just lucky to get on that as we heard about it last minute and they were the last seats."
Two other New Zealanders joined them on the charter flight, mostly made up of United States citizens, Canadians and some Australians.
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"We really feel for those still stuck there, they are really struggling."
Even with the potential option of charter flights there were a lot of uncertainties about getting back to New Zealand, Phillips said.
"There was one quoting over A$5000 to get to Sydney, but then there was no guarantee we'd be able to get from there to New Zealand. It is a huge amount of money with so much uncertainty."
Foreign Minister Winston Peters announced last week the Government was looking into "mercy flights" for Kiwis stranded abroad due to Covid-19, but today said most of the "tens of thousands" overseas would likely need to stay where they are.
Phillips said the Government should seek an arrangement with the Peruvian government so both could repatriate citizens.
"I am sure there are many South Americans trapped here and in Australia.
"Those stuck there are not asking for free hand-outs, just certainty."
New Zealanders stranded in the Chinese city of Wuhan were able to return to Auckland on an Air New Zealand-chartered flight for NZ$500 per person.
There are plans in place to fly 400 British and Irish citizens home next week, and Canada is sending three planes to the Andean nation to repatriate its stranded citizens.
Stranded Israeli backpackers were flown home by their government free of charge, Haaretz reported.
Whakatāne couple Naomi Courtney-Tennent, 30, and Nic Christie, 27, have been trapped in Lima since March 16 after they too were bumped off a flight last minute.
They expected to fly to Colombia, then on to the US and home from there, but as they were waiting in line were told only those with Colombian passports could board.
They'd been pleading with Mfat ever since for assistance, but were recently told their only current option was an Australian charter flight, but Courtney-Tennent said this was quoted at more than A$10,000, and with no guarantee on when or even if it would be departing.
"We appreciate that New Zealand has huge issues as do the whole world. We just feel a little out of sight, out of mind over here if I'm honest," Courtney-Tennent said.
"We can't afford to blow the last of our savings on possible flights, but our concern remains that if and when the border is opened here, there will be no commercial flights directly home to New Zealand.
"The embassy said the Government was working on things but they didn't mention anything specific.
"There are also people all over South America, I'm sure. A friend of mine is stuck in Galapagos Islands of all places."
There are 94 New Zealanders currently registered in Peru with SafeTravel.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters today said the tens of thousands of New Zealanders travelling overseas should consider "sheltering in place", in light of Covid-19.
"It has become very difficult to return to New Zealand from all around the world," Peters said.
"Many of the hubs we usually rely on to get home are no longer available, as countries such as Singapore prevent transits by foreign nationals through their airports.
"We are reaching a point where the best option for most New Zealanders offshore is to shelter in place, by preparing to safely stay where they are.
"This includes following the instructions of the local authorities and the advice of the World Health Organisation.
"Those few Kiwis who still have the option to return to New Zealand should continue to work with their airlines to seek flights as a matter of absolute urgency.
"The feasibility of Government-assisted departure flights is being considered, but there are no guarantees these will be possible in the extremely complex and rapidly changing global situation."
New Zealanders overseas should seek consular assistance, register their details on SafeTravel, and review the website regularly for the most up to date advice for New Zealanders overseas.
Phillips said their adventure highlighted how quickly the impacts of virus escalated.
When they departed New Zealand on February 28 South America was regarded as "very low risk" and the main travel warning was for yellow fever, Phillips said.
But on March 16, while in Aguas Calientes preparing to summit Machu Picchu, they were woken at 1.45am to say the country would be going into lockdown at midnight.
After a mad scramble back to Cusco via train and private transport, they arrived in Lima by the afternoon, only to find they'd been bumped off their flight out of the country.
Despite the "crazy" end to their adventure, it has not put the North Auckland couple off travelling - even to Peru.
"We will never forget it, that's for sure. We'll definitely be heading back. The people of Peru were incredible, and we had such an amazing time.
"We never got to get up Machu Picchu either, so we will be back. We just hope now something can be done for those Kiwis still there - they are really struggling."