GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – As tens of thousands of Americans are stuck overseas in various countries dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, 7 News is speaking exclusively to some Upstate residents in Peru as federal leaders work to gain access to the country that’s closed its borders.
Dr. Jonathan Strange, a dentist from Easley, said he is exhausted and frustrated during a Skype interview from his hotel in Cusco, Peru Thursday.
“It’s not like this is day two. This is day 10. What the heck?,” he said. “They’re running out of food. Our meals are getting a little scarce.”
10 days ago the Peruvian government shut its borders to stop the spread of coronavirus leaving Strange and others scrambling with little time to find flights home.
That order came only hours before Strange’s scheduled flight home.
“The longer we stay here the more at risk we are,” he explained.
Strange speaks those words for good reason.
He said he’s been told that if the coronavirus spreads to his hotel then his stay could be even longer.
“A person at a hotel in Cusco today contracted positive for coronavirus and that whole hotel…you cannot leave your room. They are under a 28 day quarantine,” he said.
Strange isn’t alone.
17 year old Jordan Harding is in Peru studying abroad.
She was sightseeing when she got the news Peru was being locked down.
“I’m pretty nervous because I feel like it might take awhile for me to get home and I feel there’s a lot of factors that are in play that I’m not in control over right now and I’d really like to get home,” she said from her host family’s house.
Anxiously waiting at home is Jordan’s family.
7 News spoke with her father, Jeff Harding, from his home in Tennessee.
“It’s a dynamic situation. I think things could deteriorate quickly and there would be nothing we could do about it. So we’re really interested in getting her home,” he said.
Jordan explained further.
“My parents and I have been in contact with the State Department. They’ve been trying to organize a flight for me and my two other roommates that are here right now,” she said.
The U.S. State Department has come under pressure and sharp criticism since last week for not responding fast enough in getting thousands of Americans home after the virus started to spread.
Strange said his local elected leaders in South Carolina have been very responsive.
“I get 5 to 6 emails every day from Lindsey Graham’s office, Jeff Duncan’s office, from the governor. They’re all saying the same thing, sit tight,” he said.
Strange said he may have a flight home Saturday but he’s still unsure it will happen since others have been canceled in the past days.
But, there is a sign things are beginning to improve with the efforts to get Americans on planes out of Peru.
Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokesperson, had this to say late Thursday:
“So for the privacy of American citizens under the law, I can’t talk about individual cases, but here is what I can tell you is happening in Peru. The chartered flights have finally started getting out of Peru back to the United States. Our principal deputy assistant secretary Julie Chung flew down to Peru to assist in this process. We are finally starting to get Americans home. We were candid with the Americans who were stuck that we had some challenges with the government of Peru. We had two flights that were on their way and the government of Peru did not give those chartered flights the landing authority that they needed. So those flights had to turn around. We have put a lot of pressure on the government in Peru and we now have this working much better and more flights are coming home. Peru will continue to be a focus until we can get every American that we can out of there. The highest levels of the State Department are working on this, not just in Peru, but so far we have repatriated Americans from 28 countries around the world.”
Kevin Bishop, spokesman for Senator Graham, issued this statement to 7 News:
“We are working with more than a dozen South Carolina residents who are currently stuck overseas in a variety of countries. We are in constant contact with US government officials as we work to bring them home. It remains a serious problem.”
Bishop urged Americans who have not done so already to contact Sen. Graham’s office by emailing them at Lgraham.senate.gov or they can call.
He also added Americans stuck overseas should also register with the STEP program of the State Department.