March 15, 2020 / 2:05 AM / a month ago

France scrambles to repatriate citizens as Morocco stops flights over coronavirus

PARIS/RABAT (Reuters) - French authorities were on Saturday trying to arrange emergency flights from Morocco to bring back dozens of French nationals who were unable to leave after the North African nation suspended flights to European countries over coronavirus fears.

Tourists wait to be repatriated to their countries as Morocco suspends flights to European countries over coronavirus (COVID-19) fears, at Marrakech airport, Morocco, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

Morocco, which so far has 18 cases of the virus including a minister, has suspended all soccer matches, closed schools, halted flights with 30 countries and cancelled gatherings of more than 50 people.

Alexandra Katz, a French tourist whose plane to Paris was cancelled on Saturday, said she and other nationals will spend the night at the airport until a solution is found.

“I saw a mother prepare a place to sleep on the floor for her two kids. We are abandoned to our fate here,” she told Reuters.

Another French traveller, Adel Bab, rushed from Casablanca to Marrakesh in the early morning to seek a replacement for his cancelled flights, but found long queues of angry travellers at the airport.

“I was offered a new ticket to Berlin. But Morocco later in the day banned flights to Germany,” he said.

French television stations and social media showed hundreds of people at Marrakesh airport with no flights available and nowhere to go.

“To our compatriots stranded in Morocco: new flights are being organised to allow you to return to France. I am asking the Moroccan authorities to ensure that everything necessary is done as soon as possible,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter.

Videos recorded on Saturday at Marrakesh airport showed dozens of stranded passengers, some chanting “Macron, a plane!”

France’s ambassador to Morocco, Helene Le Gal, said on Twitter that the embassy had received some 5,000 calls in the last 24 hours.

The French embassy in Rabat declined to comment, but Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he had spoken to his Moroccan counterpart and hoped that flights would be arranged soon.

Reporting by John Irish, Additional reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi in Rabat and Youssef Boudlal in Marrakesh,; Editing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell

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