Brits overseas should “return home now” to the UK while commercial flights are still an option, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said.
The cabinet minister warned airports were starting to close - “some without any notice” - as governments begin to enforce lockdowns to protect their citizens’ from the spread of coronavirus.
“The time to come home is now while you still can,” he said.
Raab also moved to reassure UK people still overseas that, where they could not get a commercial flight home, the government would work “round the clock” to bring them back.
He said: “We are strongly urging UK travellers overseas to return home now where and while there are still commercial routes to do so. Around the world, more airlines are suspending flights and more airports are closing, some without any notice. Where commercial routes don’t exist, our staff are working round the clock to give advice and support to UK nationals.”
Last week, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it was advising against all but essential international travel, initially for a period of 30 days.
A statement from the FCO said: “Today’s update reflects the pace at which international travel is becoming more difficult with the closure of borders, airlines suspending flights, airports closing, exit bans and further restrictions being introduced daily.
“Further closures to air routes may come in the next 48 hours, possibly without notice.”
It came as the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed the UK coronavirus death toll had reached 335.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that he was considering a UK lockdown as many were failing to heed government advice on social distancing and had continued to closely mix in parks and markets.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This is a very difficult time for British Citizens travelling overseas, or those with families and loved ones abroad.
“We’re in close contact with airlines, who are working tirelessly to ensure British citizens travelling overseas can safely return to the UK. We are also working closely with other government departments, including the FCO to ensure airlines are able to operate to bring people back home.”
Responding to Raab’s statement, the consumer organisation Which? warned some stuck abroad could not afford a commercial flight and urged ministers to “leave no stone unturned” in attempts to bring everyone back.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “While it’s right British travellers are being urged to return to the UK, the reality is that there are now thousands of UK residents stranded in dozens of different destinations with no means to get back.
“The government must improve its communication and provide British citizens fearful of being stranded abroad with useful advice. Where scheduled services have been withdrawn, it should leave no stone unturned to get these people on flights home.”