Winmalee couple's battle to get home as Peru goes into lockdown in response to coronavirus

A Winmalee couple who lost their home during the 2013 bushfires are among hundreds of Australians stranded in Peru, when the Peruvian government moved swiftly to lockdown the country in response to the spread of coronavirus.

David May and Deb Summerhayes had planned a five-week adventure in South America, including a cruise from Lima in Peru, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. They had arrived in Peru eight days before the cruise, but three days in, realised the situation with cruises was becoming quite alarming, so they cancelled and arranged to travel home from Lima as soon as they could.

They couldn't get tickets to fly out of Lima before March 17.

"We woke on March 16 to news that with less than 24 hours notice, Peru was entering a state of emergency with all flights in and out cancelled at midnight. We raced to the airport to try and secure tickets from Lima that day," the couple explained.

"Thousands of tourists from around the world were doing the same and the airport was chaos. After seven hours it was clear that nothing was going to be available."

In Lima, there is no public transport operating, and no businesses are open except for supermarkets and chemists.

"The streets have been all but deserted over the last few days. There are very few people out and about. We are only allowed to walk to the local market for supplies, wearing masks and with passports," the couple said.

"The following day a strict curfew was enforced from 8pm to 5am, the streets patrolled by military helicopters and vehicles. There is a strong military presence on all streets during the day as well. The hotels are operating on skeleton staff. It's a very eerie feeling."

Mr May, now retired, was the former deputy principal at Blaxland High School, and Ms Summerhayes is a director at the Department of Education. After losing their Winmalee home and all their possessions during the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires, they've learned to be resilient.

"Whilst the lockdown in Peru is frightening and challenging, we will survive this too," they said.

But they are worried about family in Australia and the availability of medicines in Lima, should they be there for a long time.

"If we are here for an extended time we are very worried about our health and availability of medications etc," they said.

"It has been very stressful for us, especially as we are also worrying about the situation at home. We have elderly relatives and children attending university."

The couple have managed to purchase economy seats for $5000 each on a private charter flight leaving Lima on Friday, but are unsure if this will go ahead as the airport is shut, although government repatriation flights are occurring from the military airport.

"We've just had contact from DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), the first and only so far, that the [Australian] government is liaising with Peru to allow the flight so it's still fingers crossed," they said.

This follows repeated calls to DFAT, and the provision of little, as well as confusing, information.

"We know also that many other governments were extremely proactive in negotiation with Peru for the return of their nationals. Each time I call DFAT and ask to at least take our names, they are not interested. Other Australians have had the same experience," Mr May said.

"We feel very abandoned by the government. We've relied on the support of family friends and colleagues who have advocated with local members of parliament and other agencies on our behalf."

Federal member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman, said she'd been contacted by residents from Winmalee, Woodford and Blackheath who are stranded in South America, and another big group from the electorate is stuck off the coast of Portugal.

"We're liaising with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs, through shadow minister Penny Wong, to make sure they are given whatever support is available," she said.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said: "We are working closely with the Peruvian government and with the airlines and with a number of other businesses who are trying to establish a means to transport people from Peru. This is basically a whole of government approach through transport, through my office, and into the Peruvian system itself."

Comments