Several University of South Alabama students who have been stranded in Peru because of the coronavirus outbreak finally are retuning home.
The State Department tweeted Wednesday that it had received permission to fly the students to Miami from Lima and Cusco, the two cities where the students have been living.
“We understand the quarantine makes movements to the airport difficult,” The U.S. embassy in Peru said on its website. “The U.S. Embassy continues to negotiate those details with the Peruvian government and local authorities so that U.S. Citizens have safe and unhindered passage to the airports.”
Diane McCleery, the mother of one of the students, also confirmed the news in a text message to FOX10 News.
“Zach is FINALLY on his way home with the other USA students from Peru,” she wrote.
Bob Lowry, a spokesman for the university, said the school has students still abroad in five other countries – two in South Korea, and one each in Japan, Germany, Thailand and Australia.
“We are in regular communication with our students abroad and will assist them with returning to the United States if they choose to do so,” he wrote in an email.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) said in a statement that he is glad the situation has been resolved.
“We are so relieved that the Peruvian government has cleared them for travel back to our country, and I am thankful to all who worked so hard to ensure this positive outcome,” he stated. “We look forward to welcoming them back home.”
McCleery that she expects the plane to land in Miami Wednesday and that the students should be home by Thursday.
The students had participated in a travel-abroad program with three other universities. They were studying medical disciplines in fields ranging from paramedics to physician assistants.
The students are among hundreds of Americans who got stuck in Peru when the government suddenly sealed its borders and halted international flights on March 17 in an attempt to stop COVID-19 from spreading.
President Donald Trump had pledged the U.S. government would work to return them, along with Americans in other countries.
“We’re thrilled,” McCleery told FOX10 News on Wednesday.
Her husband, Winston McCleery, said his understanding was that the government had prepared a list and that an American in Peru had to be on that list in order to be able to board one of the flights.
The order of departure was prioritized in some way, McCleery said. He said he believes it was based on age or other risk criteria.
A University of South Alabama student who was in Lima was able to get home over the weekend, McCleery said. He said that person got a knock on his hotel room door and was told he had 5 minutes to leave for the airport.
McCleery said his son, an emergency medical services student, is happy to be coming home.
“He’s ecstatic,” he said. “Zach, he’s pretty easygoing, and he’s good under pressure. That’s why he’s (going into) the field that he is.”
McCleery said he and his wife were anxious, but he added that he became more confident after it became clear that Trump was aware of the situation and that the government was working to address it.
“That kind of eased our tension level,” he said.
Updated at 1:34 p.m. to provide information about other University of South Alabama still abroad. Updated at 2:25 p.m. with reaction from Rep. Bradley Byrne.