WALLSEND paramedic Mitchell Sorby is one of many Australians stranded overseas due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of citizens are currently trapped in Lima, Peru struggling to find government support and looking at the prospect of paying $5000 for a chartered flight home.
When Mr Sorby departed Australia on March 14 for South America he had checked all the updated travel restrictions, looked for warnings online, ensured the travel company was still running his tour, checked in with his airlines and felt safe to head off.
Within three hours of landing in Peru, everything changed when the nation shut its borders and went into a state of emergency.
"It was a bit of a nightmare from there," Mr Sorby said.
"Immediately, everyone was attempting to book flights. The suddenness of the ban meant that the majority of our flights out were cancelled.
"I made a physical attempt by heading to the airport and lining up for hours to try to buy tickets out, everyone else had the same idea and we were met by military riot squad at check-in bays."
Mr Sorby spoke from a Lima Airbnb he is sharing with stranded travellers from Australia, the US and the UK. The city is in lockdown, he can only leave the accommodation to get food or visit the pharmacy and there is a curfew from 8pm to 5am.
"There have been no commercial options to leave," he said. "This is extremely frustrating as the Australian government/DFAT advice or communication is to return home on a commercial flight."
Limited repatriation has been made available, with the promise of charter flights at an expected cost of $5000 per person.
"These are yet to have been mobilised," he said. "This is not viable for families and for those in remote locations of the country who can't make it to the airports due to the tough restrictions."
According to the stranded Wallsend man, there are currently more than 300 Australians stuck in Peru and they have set up a social media group to share information and updates.
"The embassy here has been closed since the weekend before the announced lockdown," he said. "All Australians here feel abandoned by those we have elected and pay our taxes to."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday repatriating stranded citizens was "not a straightforward issue".
"For those Australians who find themselves overseas, like several hundred that we know to be in Peru, that is the priority of the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and they are working on a range of measures right now as to how they can best support and enable people to be able to return to Australia," he said.