By Neil Michael and Maresa Fagan
The majority of Irish citizens stuck in Peru are now back in Ireland as a campaign to repatriate Irish health workers is now under way.
The Irish in Peru arrived at 7.30am this morning at London’s Heathrow Airport aboard British Airways charter flight BA 9117, which left on Sunday.
On board were around 130 Irish citizens — including five health workers who plan to be part of the fight against Covid-19 — who had been trapped in Peru since the introduction of martial law and a military lockdown two weeks ago.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has been negotiating behind the scenes with the Peruvian authorities for permission to land planes at Lima military airport to take the Irish home.
They include Andrew Cotter, from Mitchelstown, and his girlfriend Marie, from Conna. They were given just a few hours’ notice that tourists had to leave the country just before the borders were closed down.
The couple was in a hostel in Cusco, some 20 hours by land from the country’s capital city, Lima. Residents, including a man from Belfast, in a hostel near them were quarantined after two confirmed cases of Covid-19 were detected. If the same happened at their hostel, they faced the same period of quarantine — which could last up to three months.
Their flights out of the country could not have come soon enough. Mr Cotter was due to arrive back in Cork at 7.30pm last night.
Dubliner Conor Haugh said: “Everyone was happy to be on their way to the airbase, but you could tell that we were all feeling tense. The Irish were in typically good form, thanking the officials and even applauding at times.
"We were told the BA staff were all volunteers, which made their fantastic service even more admirable. They dealt calmly with stressed passengers and were humble when praised. The process went much smoother than it could have.”
An online campaign is funding flights home to Ireland for healthcare professionals living abroad who wish to return and assist with the frontline battle against Covid-19.
A group of Irish and Irish-American donors from the tech and business world have made available “a six-figure sum” to fund flights for doctors and nurses overseas and are also working to link healthcare staff with accommodation on their return.
The campaign, Answer Ireland’s Call, has already helped to bring “dozens” of medical professionals home from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, South America, and Malawi, said businessman Neil Sands, who is among a handful of private sector donors involved. He said the campaign has “international support”.
Mr Sands, who works in technology and design consulting, said: