Working against the clock as nations shutter their borders across the globe, government officials are stepping up their efforts to repatriate thousands of Argentines who have been left stranded overseas amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday morning, a new round of "repatriation" flights by state carrier Aerolíneas Argentinas are expected to be announced, including two special flights from Madrid and an additional trip from Miami, while the Foreign Ministry negotiates with Europe a way out for compatriots unable to reach Madrid or Rome, the typical flight routes for the airline.
On Tuesday there was a meeting at the Foreign Ministry between Felipe Solá and the ambassador to the European Union, Aude Maio-Coliche, in Buenos Aires, in which the duo worked to return Argentines and Europeans to their respective homelands.
The first Aerolineas Argentinas flight to repatriate those stranded in the United States will depart this Wednesday from Miami.
"These flights are unprecedented,” said Pablo Biró, secretary general of APLA pilots union, who will fly the first repatriation flight. Speaking from Ezeiza International Airport, the union leader stressed that the firm had carried out "a risk analysis with the company and the authorities of the Transport Ministry to enable what the president asked for."
"The priority is to bring the Argentines home," he added.
According to Biró, for this trip the "security thresholds were reinforced" since the priority is also "to protect the crew and the aeronautical workers."
He added: "We need to avoid the possibility of contact in order to continue bringing flights."
In addition to the United States, Europe has been classified as a high-risk zone by the Executive branch. As a result, several Europeans have been stranded, as well as Argentines, who then approached their respective consulates once their flights were cancelled in an effort to return to their country before it becomes impossible.
Aerolineas Argentinas President Pablo Ceriani said Tuesday that the firm would"carry out all the necessary measures" to bring the stranded Argentines abroad.
"We are going to add five more flights: three to Miami and two to Madrid," he said. In addition, he assured that the airline is working to add another 10 additional flights with dates that have not yet been determined. Among them, two flights to Lima will be included to bring those stranded in Peru. The airline is the only company authorised to carry out special flights to risk areas by the government.
According to estimates, Aerolíneas Argentinas has 5,400 registered passengers to repatriate.
"We did talks and training in the company for the crew and we are constantly giving them safety health instructions for the flights," Ceriani said days ago.
The Foreign Ministry ordered that the consulates based in the affected countries to focus their efforts on Argentines and foreigners residing in Argentina who had a return ticket to the country.