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Emergency flights authorized after Morocco flight ban

A series of emergency flights have been authorized to repatriate tourists from Morocco after a suddenly imposed blockade on air links left many fearing they would be stranded.

An initial weekend announcement saying restrictions would come into effect March 15 had triggered confusion as some flights continued to operate as scheduled and others were pulled.

But late Monday, authorities announced 100 “exceptional” flights had been authorized to carry visitors home, according to the Moroccan Embassy in London.

Airlines including easyJet and TUI have also said they will be running repatriation flight.

Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccans Abroad said on Sunday that it is was suspending all international passenger flights to and from its territory “until further notice” as a precautionary measure against Covid-19.

Morocco reported its first coronavirus case at the beginning of March and had 18 cases at the time of the flight ban, according to the Reuters news agency.

The country is Africa’s most popular destination, welcoming 12.3 million tourists in 2018, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

On Monday, Thomas Reilly, the UK’s ambassador to Morocco, urged travelers via Twitter to try to find a scheduled flight.

“I hope many people will be able to get on commercial flights back to the #UK today. If you can, please get out today by any commercial means available. However. I recognise that many people will not be able to find seats today,” he posted.

He said that the UK embassy in Rabat had set up a crisis team to negotiate extra flights to repatriate travelers.

“I know this is really stressful and worrying for you all,” he wrote. “I understand that you feel cross and upset. Everyone is working to find a solution. It will take time. Easy for me to say, but please be patient.”

One UK resident, who asked not to be named, told CNN he was shocked at the sudden nature of the flight ban.

“We’re supposed to travel tomorrow and what we’re really upset at is that, without any warning, the government decided to suspend all flights in and out of Morocco,” he said. “All other countries like Algeria give enough warnings of one week — but we didn’t receive any warning.”

He said attempts to find airline seats for him and his young family had so far proved fruitless as all were fully booked.

Willis Chan, a Paris-based fashion designer, said he was originally booked on a flight from Morocco to Paris on Tuesday, but after hearing of the announcement booked a second flight to London, which was subsequently canceled.

He said he was too frightened to head to the airport because of the risk of catching the coronavirus from the large numbers of people gathered there.

Among airlines with connections to the North African country, easyJet said it was looking into providing rescue flights for anyone scheduled to travel after March 19.

The low-cost carrier operates two return flights a day between London’s Gatwick Airport and Marrakesh.

Tour and airline operator TUI said it was canceling all Morocco vacations between March 15 and 29. It said its customers in the country would be contacted and informed of repatriation flights.

“We request that messages are checked regularly, our reps in resort will also be able to help with the most up to date information,” the operator advised on its website.

cnn