New Zealand holidaymakers stranded in South America after Peru suddenly closed its borders are seeking a plan to get them home from the Government.
Newly engaged couple Naomi Courtney-Tennent, 30, and Nic Christie, 27, were at Lima's airport with tickets on a flight to Colombia on March 16, the last day flights were leaving Peru before its borders closed for at least two weeks. They expected to fly to Colombia, then on to the US and home from there.
While waiting in an hour-long queue with hundreds of other desperate tourists they were told if they didn't hold a Colombian passport they wouldn't be getting on the flight. The airline authorities said the surrounding South American countries were focused on getting their own citizens home and there weren't any seats for foreigners.
"We were so shocked. We thought we'd make a quick escape, but it wasn't the case," Courtney-Tennent told the Herald.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said its Chile office was in contact with 40 New Zealanders in Peru requiring consular assistance.
In total, 81 New Zealanders were registered on SafeTravel as being in Peru, it said.
Courtney-Tennent and Christie were staying in a backpacker hostel and it could be weeks before they can start their journey home.
Uncertainty surrounds how they will transit through any country to get home and today's news that Air New Zealand has ended its Buenos Aires service adds to the uncertainty.
"We don't know whether there will be border restrictions at where we transit through," Courtney-Tennent said.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters has announced a "do not travel" guideline - the first time it has been done in New Zealand.
"We are raising our travel advice to the highest level: do not travel," Mr Peters said.
"This is the first time the New Zealand Government has advised New Zealanders against travelling anywhere overseas. That reflects the seriousness of the situation we are facing with Covid-19."
Mfat said it was working on the "largest consular response the New Zealand Government has ever undertaken" as a result of the pandemic.
The hostel where Courtney-Tennent and Christie are has closed its kitchen area after a crackdown on all common areas, so the rice and pasta they had ensured to buy to keep them fed while in lockdown is going uncooked.
"Today we've eaten a boiled egg, some fruit and muesli bars."
They had heard the hostel manager would start selling cooked meals, but the couple are conscious they need to hold on to their money for flights home.
"We want to save our money so we can afford a flight home with the inflated prices we're expecting."
Yoga on the floor of the dorm room and calls back home are helping to keep the couple, both teachers in Whakatāne, sane in the uncertain time.
"We just wish there was a way [the Government] could let us know they'll help us home. A bit of reassurance we will be able to get home in the near future," Courtney-Tennent said.
Mfat said its consular advisers in Wellington and around the world were responding to large numbers of enquiries from New Zealanders facing unprecedented global travel disruptions as countries and territories closed borders and restricted movement.
"We are in constant contact with consular counterparts from other countries to share information, and, when possible to work together on solutions to help out our nationals overseas," a spokeswoman said.
Mfat also encouraged Kiwis stranded overseas to keep themselves safe by following the World Health Organisation and local health authorities' advice.
It also urged Kiwis overseas to register on SafeTravel.
'We're feeling quite alone'
Ian and Vicki Phillips, property valuers from Auckland, were among the hundreds turned away from the airport as Peru entered lockdown.
"We waited a couple of hours in the customer services queue to be seen, then were told that there was nothing they could do, every flight was booked out and they did not have our booking in their system.
"Our hotel Hilton Miraflores, which has a capacity of 352, has only 45 stranded persons from a range of countries, we are the only Kiwis.
"We are feeling quite alone and unsupported right now," Mrs Phillips said.
She said New Zealanders need to know what the Government was doing to try and bring Kiwis home.
"We appear to know more about what is going on than the embassy and the Safe Travel site, which still does not appear to be updated with the latest information."
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday asked all Kiwis overseas to return as soon as possible due to the restriction on the number of flights now operating.
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters told 80,000 Kiwis travelling overseas to get home now - before it's too late.