The Taipei Association of Travel Agents yesterday confirmed that 103 Taiwanese tourists were stranded in Morocco and 79 in Peru after both countries enforced travel restrictions to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel agents held an emergency meeting with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Tourism Bureau yesterday afternoon to discuss options for repatriating the tourists, association chairman Wu Chih-chien (吳志健) said.
Tour guides were trying to take tourists stranded in Morocco to Paris, Frankfurt, Germany, or any other European airports that have connecting flights to Taiwan, Wu said.
The tourists in Peru were staying in hotels because of a curfew, Wu said, adding that tour guides were finding ways to take them to Chile’s capital, Santiago, to fly to a US airport before returning to Taiwan.
“One of the travel agencies told us in the meeting that it has a tour group in Peru whose members are mostly older. One of the tourists is 87 years old, and has a chronic disease and was only carrying medicine for 18 days,” Wu said, adding that the ministry is exploring all diplomatic channels to repatriate the tourists as soon as possible.
The ministry and the bureau were also negotiating with the Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based airline Emirates about the possibility of bringing back tourists on a charter flight, as the tourists in Morocco are all scheduled to return to Taiwan on Emirates flights, Wu said.
As Taiwan has no representative office in Morocco, the nation’s affairs are covered by the ministry’s representative offices in France and the UAE.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, travel agents have to cope with the possibility of daily changes to travel advisories, Wu said, adding that the safety of tourists is travel agents’ top priority.
Travel agents would follow the disease prevention instructions from the Central Epidemic Command Center, he said.
Morocco on Sunday unexpectedly announced that it was closing its air and sea borders due to the spread of COVID-19. Peru has deployed military personnel on the streets and imposed a curfew.
A source within the association said that 11 tourists in Morocco have rebooked a return flight with Oman Air that was scheduled to arrive in Taipei last night.
Whether they succeeded in boarding the flight was uncertain, the source said.
Earlier yesterday, Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs Director-General Alexander Yui (俞大㵢) said that eight Taiwanese tourists have not been able to leave Argentina, citing numbers obtained from travel agencies and the nation’s representative office in the South American nation.
The representative office in Argentina has established contact with the stranded Taiwanese and is trying to find a way to get them home, he said.
However, despite the office’s best efforts, the tourists might have to remain abroad until border control measures are lifted, he added.
Travelers in other Latin American and Caribbean countries face similar difficulties, as the coronavirus is spreading quickly, Yui said, advising Taiwanese to refrain from visiting the regions to avoid inconvenience.
Twelve Latin American and Caribbean countries have banned or are to ban the entry of foreign nationals: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru and Jamaica, he said.
The ministry yesterday raised its travel alert for Peru and Argentina to “orange,” the second-highest level on its four-color scale, urging Taiwanese to avoid unnecessary trips to those countries.
Additional reporting by Lin Chia-nan and CNA
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