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Joe Parkin Daniels reports for the Guardian from Bogotá, Colombia:

An evacuation flight of British nationals and residents is about to take off from Colombia, headed for London Heathrow.

The flight is operated by the South American country’s flag carrying airline Avianca. On Saturday night 230 passengers, mostly British nationals, were boarding the aircraft. The plane will return back to Colombia from the UK with Colombian evacuees on Sunday.

Joe Parkin Daniels

The scene at Bogotá’s El Dorado airport, as 230 passengers queue to check-in for the evacuation flight to London Heathrow. Photo from @LukeStTaylor

June 14, 2020

The flight, which was organised between the airline and the governments of Colombia and Britain, was over-subscribed. Colombian president Iván Duque has cancelled all international air travel until September, except for rare evacuation flights like the one that left on Saturday.

At capital Bogotá’s barely operational El Dorado airport on Saturday night, many people waiting in the long, socially-distanced queue, were relieved to be getting home.

“There is a lot of relief from those who feel fortunate to have got a seat through the British embassy, some having initially been rejected,” Luke Taylor, a reporter on the flight, told The Guardian. “But like myself many are also sad to cut their time in Colombia short without the chance for a real farewell.”

Colombia, which is relaxing some of its lockdown measures, currently has confirmed 46,858 cases of Covid-19, with 1545 deaths. Daily cases are climbing, with 1646 confirmed on Saturday, worrying experts that the worst is about to hit.

Neighbouring Brazil and Peru both continue to be ravaged by virus. An official at the World Health Organization warned last month that “in a sense, South America has become a new epicenter for the disease.”

Satuday’s evacuation flight, which is scheduled to land at Heathrow on Sunday afternoon, will not provide hot food or in-flight entertainment – in line with global protocols to combat the pandemic.

The British embassy in Colombia advised passengers on the flight to “please bring your own reading materials, music and/or films”, in an email sent out last week. “But most of all, we wish you a safe and pleasant return to the UK.”

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