Israeli tourists in the Peruvian city of Cusco are racing to leave the country before a nationwide two-week quarantine announced by President Martin Vizcarra goes into effect at midnight.
But efforts to transport the Israelis to the capital Lima some 600 km away and from there to Israel, have so far proven difficult for both Israel's Foreign Ministry and international search and rescue company Magnus that was hired to help retrieve the tourists.
Some of the Israelis stranded in Cusco, which is just 70km from the tourist hot spot Macchu Picchu, have already taken rooms in local hostels and are afraid to leave them for fear they will not be able to return.
Among them is 23-year-old Lior Zimel, who said she was allowed to go to the supermarket for no more then 20 minutes in order to buy essentials.
“They are trying to organize a flight to Lima from Cusco,” said Zimel.
“From there we will board a flight back to Israel. We are trying to organize a bus to take us to the capital, but the road is known to be long and dangerous.”
Ido Portman, 24, and Carmel Shalgi, 27, are also stranded in in Peru.
“We arrived in the country this week to experience treks like Machu Pichu and we waited years to take a trip like this," they said.
"But just a few days later, after the announcement by the Peruvian president, everything changed," they said.
"There are no flights, everything is closed and there are no people in the street. We are hopeful we will be able to leave soon but things don’t look promising right now.”
Bar Levy also arrived in Cusco fairly recently with his friends.
“We are a group of guys who arrived in Peru after our military service, and the lot of us are stuck in Peru due to the full quarantine.
"The minute we heard about the virus' spread we did everything in our power to leave the country, but the flights have reached unreasonable prices. They are asking NIS 14,000 [approx. $3,600] for a seat.”
Levy begged the Israeli government for help.
“We are terrified of being stuck in quarantine in a foreign third world country," he said. "Please help us come back home.”
The Amsalem Tourism company announced on Monday that it will send a special rescue plane to retrieve the Israelis stranded in South America due to the closure of airports in Peru.
The plane will take off for Israel from Sau Paulo in Brazil at the weekend, with the exact time of departure still to be announced. The company said the goal is to give backpackers who wish to return to Israel enough time to reach Sau Paulo.
Gal Golan, another Israeli tourist stuck in Peru, said that the ticket price offered by Amsalem is just too steep.
“We have no way of returning because all flights have been grounded," she said. "At the airport they sent everybody home, and those who pre-booked a ticket were told to wait in line to see if they were on the list of those approved to fly.”
She added: “The price the Amsalem group is asking to get us out of here is nearly $4,000 a ticket; it’s an extremely high price and without the intervention of the Foreign Ministry we have no way to return home while the crisis continues.”
The Amsalem group said that the high price of tickets is due to the fact they needed to send a special plane to South America.
The Foreign Ministry said in response: “Due to the spread of the coronavirus around the world, many countries have announced the downsizing or complete cancellation of international flights.
"Because of this we suggest that every Israeli who wishes to return to Israel double checks whether their intended flight is still scheduled, and if not finds an alternative flight.
"The focus of the ministry is currently on Peru, where the president has announced quarantine for the whole country. With the flights from Peru to Asia and Europe cancelled, we advise all Israelis to keep their eyes on the country’s local news and adhere to all instructions issued by the local government."