Three USC students and one USC alumnus are stuck in Peru during a personal trip after the government of Peru announced to close its borders and cancel international flights on Sunday to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The government of Peru declared a state of emergency on Sunday and announced to shut down its borders for at least 15 days starting that Monday, canceling all international flights and restricting the movement of people across provinces, according to the New York Times.
Lucas Hu, a senior majoring in computer science, told Annenberg Media that he arrived in Peru last Friday along with two other USC students and one USC alumnus for a personal trip. Hu said they were notified of the announcement while at dinner that night.
“That came as a big surprise to everyone,” Hu said. “Our original plan was to take a flight back on March 22, but right now there's no indication of when flights will be able to leave.”
Before the restriction policy was put into place Hu said they had fewer than 24 hours to book flights and leave the country, but it appeared that the airport could have been shut down even before then.
“As soon as the announcement was made, the airport here in Cusco where we're staying was shut down,” Hu said. “There were police guarding the entrance and they weren't letting anyone in.”
Another person on the same trip with Hu is Leonardo Cicconi, who graduated from USC in 2019. He told Annenberg Media that since Monday, people are not allowed to leave their houses for unnecessary reasons and are monitored by police in Cusco, Peru.
“We’re not allowed to leave our Airbnb unless we’re going for groceries or medicine,” Hu said. “There are police on the streets. They ask you what you’re doing if you go by. They’re controlling, they’re making sure that nobody’s leaving the house unnecessarily.”
Cicconi said he and other USC students reached out to the U.S. Embassy on Monday but got the same information that the Peruvian government provided: to stay inside for 15 days. In addition, Cicconi said the U.S. consulate office in Cusco locked its doors.
“[The consulate office] didn't let anybody in,” Cicconi said. “They locked the door and they put a sign on the window with the same information that we see everywhere, [which is] totally useless -- stay inside, try to call your airline.”
The students also reached out to their respective U.S. Senators in their states, who claimed that they have been working on this issue and contacting the State Department, Cicconi said.
USC commented via an email statement on the situation that, “Our advice to any member of the Trojan Family who is on personal travel overseas and is unable to return to the U.S., is to reach out immediately to their home embassy or consulate for assistance. These local officials may have the authority to help.”
“We care deeply about the safety and security of our entire community, and have been communicating regularly as developments occur in this rapidly evolving situation. Before Spring Break, we provided information to all members of our community about the potential risks of international travel to help them make their decisions,” the university statement stated.
Hu said a group of Americans stuck in Peru formed a WhatsApp group to communicate about each other’s situations.
“Over the last 48 hours or so, there's been a lot of communication between the Americans here," Hu said. “We're trying to gather more information about the situation. And whatever information we have, we're trying to provide it to people who are in the same situation as us.”
The group launched a social media campaign on Twitter with tags like #StuckInPeru in order to draw national attention, according to Hu. In order to better organize the campaign, the group members have a spreadsheet containing their names and contact information, Hu added. At the time of publishing, there are 282 Americans stuck in Cusco, Peru and 87 Americans in Lima, Peru, according to the spreadsheet Hu sent to Annenberg Media.
“We're actually really surprised by the fact that there wasn't any reporting on this in U.S. news outlets yet,” Hu said. “We all take into Twitter, and we're trying to get more and more attention. It seems like some news outlets are starting to pick up the issue.”
Hu said he and the other USC students have enough food and water for now and are in good condition, but the situation is uncertain.
“Right now everything is really unclear. There's no real response from the US State Department yet,” Hu said. “Even the Peruvian government is pretty unclear on when exactly things will return to normal, whether like repatriation flights will be able to leave and things like that.”
“I really regret getting on that flight,” Neelesh Bagrodia, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering who is also on the trip said. “I didn’t think something like this could happen to us.”