UK, US evacuate citizens amid crisis


THE United Kingdom and the United States have stepped in to help their citizens who may be stranded in Zimbabwe after international airlines grounded their planes as COVID-19 rattles the globe.


“We are reaching out to UK tourists still in Zimbabwe who may not have seen the latest Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice; if you are a UK national who is normally resident in the UK and you need to book a flight back home,” UK ambassador to Zimbabwe Melanie Robinson said in a travel advice.

“British nationals travelling overseas are strongly advised to return to the UK now. Advice on how to return to the UK is being regularly updated.”

According to an alert by the US embassy in Harare, authorities were co-ordinating with a commercial airline and urged citizens willing to go back to the US to come forward.

The arranged flight was set to leave yesterday.

“In response to the increasingly limited commercial options for departing Zimbabwe due to the global impact of COVID-19, the US embassy is co-ordinating with a commercial airline to depart Zimbabwe on March 27, 2020, with one flying to Chicago, Illinois and the other to Dulles, Virginia (near Washington, DC). A number of seats on these flights will be available to private US citizens. There is no confirmation yet if there will be a flight on Saturday March 28,” a statement from the embassy read.

Contacted for further information by NewsDay Weekender, US embassy public affairs section official Jason Roberts said the embassy was just playing its role to provide assistance and information to its citizens.

“It’s not a chartered plane, it’s a regular commercial flight. We are just letting them know what is available.

It’s for Americans that are here, if they want to leave. Part of the job is just to make sure people know what is available and we put that information out there and let them know,” he said.

The US State Department said it was their number one priority to ensure the safety of their citizens at home and abroad.

Reports from Washington say the US has already brought back about 9 300 people from 28 countries, largely through chartered aircraft.

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said it was the duty of the department to keep citizens safe.

“Keeping US citizens safe at home and abroad is the State Department’s number one priority. We have a team working 24/7 to assist US citizens abroad, including our employees on ordered and authorised departures,” Pompeo said on Twitter.

Zimbabwe has so far recorded seven positive tests and one fatality, while there is no testing centre open to the public currently following the closure of Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare.

Observers have questioned the safety of staying in Zimbabwe amid concerns that there are no immediate testing and treatment facilities as the health delivery system had collapsed.

The only known centre, Wilkins Hospital, is reportedly closed for renovations, leaving locals and foreigners with no option.

Harare mayor Herbert Gomba said Wilkins would remain closed until after renovations and that those in need of assistance should go to Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital.

“Wilkins has always been under renovations for the last three weeks, so we had stopped some works on Wilkins on the basis that we had admitted Zororo (Makamba) so after what happened to him (his death), we thought of continuing with the renovations that were being done so that was what had happened,” Gomba said.

However, Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital has, of late, been condemned after failing to handle cases of waterborne diseases in the past and had not been mentioned as an alternative COVID-19 testing and treatment centre.