Coronavirus: Government to charter flights in bid to bring thousands of stranded Brits home
Dominic Raab in Downing Street
Ministers are to spend up to £75 million chartering flights in an attempts to bring home thousands of UK citizens left stranded overseas because of the coronavirus.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said British Airways, Virgin, EasyJet, Jet2 and Titan were among the companies taking part in the huge airlift.
The elderly and those with medical needs will be prioritised in the first instance, he said.
The Government has come under increasing pressure to do more to repatriate travellers unable to get flights home because of the global lockdown as a result of the outbreak.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Raab urged Brits overseas to try to book themselves onto commerical flights back to the UK wherever possible.
But if that cannot be done, he said the Government will arrange for flights to pick them up.
He said: "I can announce a new arrangement between the government and airlines to fly home tens of thousands of stranded British travellers where commercial flights are no longer possible.
"Under the arrangements that we are putting in place, we will target flights from a range of priority countries starting this week.
"Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines will be responsible for getting passengers home. That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled.
"So for those still in those countries where commercial options are still available, don't wait. Don't run the risk of getting stranded. The airlines are standing by to help you. Please book your tickets as soon as possible.
"Where commercial flights are no longer running, the Government will provide the necessary financial support for special charter flights to bring UK nationals back home.
"Once special flights have been arranged we will promote them through the Government's travel advice and through the British Embassy or High Commission in the relevant country.
"British travellers who want a seat on those flights will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.
"We have designated £75m to support those flights and the airlines in order to keep the cost down and affordable for those seeking to return to the UK."
Meanwhile, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance revealed that social distancing measures first introduced by the Government two weeks ago are working.
He pointed to data showing that the number of people using the Tube, trains and buses has slumped compared to a month ago.
Sir Patrick also said that the daily rise in the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted to hospital was rising at a steady rate, suggesting that efforts to slow the transmissing of the disease were having some effect.
He spoke as the latest figures showed the total number of UK deaths from coronavirus has reached 1,408 - an increase of 180 in the last 24 hours.