Couple stranded in Peru after brutal border closure

Aaron Millstein and Angela Park visiting Lima, Peru, before the country closed its borders. (Photo courtesy of Angela Park)

What started as a vacation inspired by the love of spicy food has turned into a nightmare for a couple in San Francisco.

On March 9, Mission District resident Angela Park and her boyfriend Aaron Millstein flew from San Francisco to Lima, Peru, for a week-long vacation they’d been planning for last year. But on March 15, Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra declared a state of emergency and a 15-day quarantine that closed the country’s borders. The foreigners had 24 hours to evacuate.

Park and Millstein were jogging at a local park when they were arrested by Lima police and first informed of quarantine orders. They immediately headed for the airport.

“It was utter chaos,” Park said, adding that the airport was crowded with thousands of desperate international travelers trying to catch the last commercial flights to their own countries, costing between $ 3,000 and $ 6,000 per person. The couple, along with more than 1,500 other American travelers, could not find flights on time.

Now they have banded together with other stranded Americans to urge the US government to bring them home. Park has started a petition that she hopes will pressure the State Department to extradite the remaining Americans.

“They got caught, they were late with their flights, we gave them a deadline, they didn’t, but we are trying to get them out, probably through the military,” he said. President Donald Trump said at a press conference on Thursday. press briefing with the coronavirus task force.

Park said there had been no news from the State Department on how or if US citizens stranded in Peru would be evacuated. In an email sent to some Americans who signed up for a departmental alert service, the U.S. Embassy in Lima said it was coordinating with the Peruvian government to arrange charter flights. A flight of 264 Americans left Lima for Washington, DC on Friday and 175 U.S. citizens left for Miami on Saturday. But Park said those flights were only for embassy workers and those who are sick.

“Everyone here is trying to find the balance between what’s real news and what’s just rumors because there’s nothing official,” Park said. “The information from the Embassy is out of date and they are not responding. Anything that can give rise to action that we have received has been through the airlines or the Peruvian government. “

Angela Park and Aaron Millstein attend a cooking class in Lima, Peru.  (Photo courtesy of Angela Park)

Angela Park and Aaron Millstein attend a cooking class in Lima, Peru. (Photo courtesy of Angela Park)

Their trip was originally planned to Chengdu in China’s Sichuan Province, an area known for its spicy cuisine. When news of the growing coronavirus epidemic began in January, Park changed his plan and headed to South America instead. At the time, only six cases of the virus had been confirmed in Peru, and the US State Department classified the country as a Level 2 travel advisory, advising travelers to exercise increased caution due to criminality.

“I tend to worry a lot and always think safe than sorry, but even to me it didn’t seem like a big risk,” Park said. “Of course, it’s hard to think about it in retrospect.”

On Thursday, the State Department raised the global travel advisory to Level 4, advising citizens not to travel abroad because countries could unexpectedly close their borders. The U.S. Embassy in Peru reported that there were 263 cases of the virus in the country on Friday.

Other countries like Israel, Australia and Mexico have evacuated their citizens from Peru, leaving many Americans wondering why the US government has not followed suit. All international commercial flights have been canceled and airlines are only circulating registration documents for travelers to express interest in the flights.

But Park and Millstein fear it is too late. On Saturday, Peruvian Defense Minister Walter Martos said the president had ordered that from Sunday all airports and borders be closed under much stricter measures and military applications. The couple expect the quarantine to extend beyond April 1, when they were able to book the first available flight to the United States.

“We’re pretty lucky in a relative sense, I think. We’re in a main town in a decent apartment and can afford to stay here for a few extra weeks if needed, ”Millstein said. “Some people are in tatters with all the uncertainty, especially since the government here seems to be making a habit of turning our lives upside down every other day.”

Aaron Millstein overlooks the city of Lima, Peru, from the balcony of an AirBnB where he and Angela Park have been confined since the country entered a 15-day quarantine.  (Photo courtesy of Angela Park)

Aaron Millstein overlooks the city of Lima, Peru, from the balcony of an AirBnB where he and Angela Park have been confined since the country entered a 15-day quarantine. (Photo courtesy of Angela Park)

Park, who works as a UX designer for a health tech company, works remotely in Peru, but said the cost of living in an AirBnB at the moment while still paying rent in the mission s ‘added. Millstein also works remotely for Verily’s Project Baseline, which is testing for COVID-19 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

“It’s crazy not only to be trapped in Peru because of the virus, but also to actively fight to reduce the damage it can cause here,” Millstein said.

For now, the couple has no other choice but to wait for the crisis to end. In between work, the two stayed indoors to constantly check for flight updates, search Twitter for responses from Trump or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, or check daily emails from the Senator’s office. Diane Feinstein.

“I always wonder if I should be even more proactive and do something more, or should I just fold back and prepare to be in there for the long haul?” Park said, echoing a sentiment of many inside U.S. borders during the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s so hard to choose which one. Uncertainty is what is difficult.

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