March 25, 2020 / 6:37 PM / in 2 months

Tourists trapped in Colombia by coronavirus hope for flights home

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Beneath the harsh fluorescent lights of El Dorado airport’s check-in area, more than 100 stranded tourists bedded down for the night on spartan cots.

Miguel Sarabia, 36, from Chile, rests on a temporary bed while his daughter Amanda, 4, plays inside El Dorado International Airport after flights were suspended to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bogota, Colombia March 24, 2020. Picture taken March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Nathalia Angarita. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

Outside, Colombia was settling in for a 19-day quarantine meant to stem the spread of coronavirus which has grounded international flights and left foreigners wondering how and when they might get home.

The would-be travelers, from countries including Chile, Argentina and Spain, are hoping for special flights home.

“We have spent three and a half days here and some people are falling into despair,” Chilean Miguel Sarabia, 36, said late on Tuesday, as he and his girlfriend Paulina Meza, 30, settled their combined family of five young children down for the night.

The government of President Ivan Duque, like many around the world, has introduced strict measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. Flights are blocked, long-distance transport is restricted and Colombians are to stay home until mid-April.

The Andean country has 378 confirmed cases of the disease and three deaths. Globally the outbreak has claimed more than 18,800 lives.

Many tourists were caught out by closures, unable to find flights home amid rescheduling and priced increases.

Apart from the 157 sleeping at the airport, thousands more are thought to be living in hotels and other accommodation, though migration officials could not confirm a figure.

“We have absolutely no idea when we are getting out of here,” Sarabia said, adding he considered staying at the airport safer and cheaper than a hotel.

Sarabia, Meza and their children - who range in age from 1 to 13 - had traveled to the idyllic Caribbean island of San Andres for vacation.

The tropical holiday did not end as they expected.

“It’s difficult to sleep here because it’s cold, that noise you can hear goes all night and the lights go on and off all the time,” said Meza, who is five months pregnant.

“Obviously the baby isn’t used to sleeping on these beds and neither am I in my current condition,” she said.

Others are worried about what might await them at home.

Slideshow (16 Images)

“Spain is one of the countries hit hardest by coronavirus, so it’s like going to the epicenter,” said Abraham Ferrer, 36, who lives in Valencia and is waiting for a Friday flight.

Frustration with embassies was widespread.

“They don’t visit, they don’t answer the phones,” said Argentine Tania Granado, 33, traveling with her husband and two young sons. “It’s total abandonment.”

Reporting by Oliver Griffin; additional reporting by Camilo Cohecha and Daniel Munoz; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Nick Zieminski

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