March 20, 2020 / 4:02 PM / 5 months ago

Coronavirus leaves 300,000 EU citizens stranded abroad - Borrell

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - As many as 300,000 European Union citizens are seeking repatriation due to the coronavirus outbreak, with Latin America and Southeast Asia two regions from where it is proving tough to get people home, the EU’s top diplomat said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: European tourists await for news outside a hotel near Jose Joaquin de Olmedo airport while waiting for a flight back to their countries as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Guayaquil, Ecuador, March 19, 2020. Reuters/Santiago Arcos/File Photo

While efforts to return Europeans in North Africa have been swift, the EU has been hampered in some other countries, in part because of a lack of information on how many Europeans are overseas and a reliance on commercial airlines.

“We are coordinating the operations to repatriate thousands of Europeans who are stranded abroad. We are talking about 100,000 who are registered (with embassies), but there are many more, maybe close to 300,000,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters by telephone.

“Little by little, we are trying to bring people home,” he said.

With Spaniards stuck in countries such as Peru, the EU is relying on commercial airlines - many of which are scaling back flights due to the virus - to pick them up because Latin America is too far away for the bloc’s crisis recovery aircraft.

Borrell said one airport in Ecuador had been reluctant to allow planes from Europe to land to pick up Europeans, fearing they might be bringing the virus with them.

He said the problem had now been overcome, although he warned of the dangers of such misleading reports during the coronavirus crisis.

“It shows that disinformation can be harmful, to say that European flights are bringing the disease,” he said.

An internal EU report seen by Reuters this week said Russian media have deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus, generate panic and sow distrust.

However, Borrell did not blame any country in Ecuador’s case and stressed that disinformation came from many sources.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones

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