British nationals stuck on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali are calling on the government to bring them home, saying they face the prospect of being trapped for months due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Two travellers told the Guardian they had tried to follow Foreign Office advice to return home immediately due to the escalating seriousness of the Covid-19 outbreak, only to arrive at Bali’s Denpasar airport and be told they would not be able to board flights due to travel restrictions in countries through which they transit.
A Facebook group, set up to help stranded Britons there, had more than 130 members on Tuesday, with many sharing the same stories of being turned away from flights because they transited through places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, all of which do not accept passengers from Indonesia.
Many called on the government to bring them home and were sharing contact details for MPs.
Among those sharing their stories in the group were key workers including NHS staff, teachers, a prison custody officer, firefighter, pharmacist, food distribution worker and army reservist.
Several said they had been told by airline Emirates that they might have to remain in Bali for three months. For one traveller, Pauline Bennett, 56, a support worker from Bishop’s Stortford, a delay could be fatal.
“He said you might have to stay for three months and I almost passed out at that point, because I thought, I’ll be dead,” she told the Guardian over the phone.
Bennett has a bone marrow disease and is required to take chemotherapy medication each day to prevent her having a stroke. Bennett said she had enough medication to last her until Saturday.
“I’m running so low on my chemo,” she said. “When you’ve got underlying health issues and your meds are running out, it’s a desperate situation.”
“It’s horrendous, I’m just so distraught,” she said.
Bennett travelled to Bali with her husband, Steven, in early March for the “trip of a lifetime” to visit their daughter, who lives in Australia. Due to her health condition, she checked with her GP and other doctors before travelling and said they gave her the all-clear.
When Bennett saw warnings about the need for British citizens to return home due to coronavirus, she and her husband booked a flight home, which was due to depart on Monday. When they arrived at the airport, Bennett said she was told the flight was cancelled because of travel restrictions in the UAE, where she was due to change planes.
Indonesia, which has been criticised for being slow to respond to the outbreak, had recorded 48 deaths and 514 infections on Monday night. However, the death toll has prompted speculation the number of cases is higher than official records suggest. Earlier this month, the country of 264 million people had carried out only a few hundred tests.
Bennett said she and other passengers had received no support from the British government, despite many of them emailing the foreign office seeking assistance. Bennett received an automated reply to her email requesting help. In the email, seen by the Guardian, she was advised to “please read our coronavirus guidance and country-specific travel advice” and to “register for updates”.
“They need to do something to get us back,” said Bennett. “How can the government just leave us here like this?” she said.
Maddie Kembrey, a 20-year-old student from Bristol, is also trapped in Bali, after a holiday with her parents.
Kembrey and her family arrived in Bali on 8 March and said they had been monitoring the status of their return flights throughout their holiday, and were advised something was wrong only when they arrived at the airport on Monday and were told they were cancelled.
“We’re all petrified really. Because if nothing gets done, they told us we have to stay here for three months,” she said. “We looked at the government website and they talk about how bad the hospitals are. Someone needs to get us home.”
“We need [the government] to send a flight over, really,” she said. “There’s literally nothing we can do.”
A spokesperson for the foreign and commonwealth office said: “We recognise that any British people currently overseas may be nervous about the impact of coronavirus on their travel and their health. We are in close contact with travel providers and our international partners to provide support to those British people affected by ongoing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
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