‘They had been through a terrible ordeal’ - Stranded Britons returned from Cuba with help of Norfolk woman
- Credit: Foreign & Commonwealth Office
With all unnecessary overseas travel suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, a Norfolk woman has found herself at the forefront of an effort to bring stranded Britons home from the Caribbean.
Fred Olsen cruise ship the Braemar had been kept off the coast of Cuba and its almost 700 passengers, the majority of whom were British, were left in limbo due to a number of people on the ship testing positive for Covid-19 or showing symptoms.
Eventually negotiations between UK and Cuban officials saw an agreement reached for the ship to dock in Havana so that passengers could fly out of José Martí International Airport on four specially organised repatriation flights.
Which led to Gabriella Guymer-Davies, from Felthorpe, boarding an empty British Airways plane as part of a team of 17 Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials.
The 24-year-old was a member of the FCO’s rapid deployment team to fly out to the Caribbean island alongside members of the British Red Cross and army medics to ensure the operation ran smoothly and taking medical supplies for the passengers with them.
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After disembarking the passengers underwent security and medical checks run by the Cuban authorities and flight providers, allowing those showing no symptoms to fly back to Heathrow on three of the British Airways planes which had been chartered by Fred Olsen. The remaining symptomatic passengers boarded an FCO chartered flight back to the Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down airfield near Salisbury.
“I was struck by the stoicism of the passengers as we helped them get on board the plane in Cuba,” Ms Guymer-Davies explained. “They had been through a terrible ordeal, far away from the UK and not knowing when they would see their friends and families again. But despite the exhaustion and the heat, they were keeping calm and carrying on.”
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As will come as little surprise to Norfolk natives, it didn’t take long to detect the familiar accent among the passengers and a conversation with a man from Norwich soon followed.
“There was an upbeat atmosphere as we got people sat in their seats and after we took off,” Ms Guymer-Davies continued. “People were chatting and sharing stories on the flight back while they waited for snacks or queued for the loo.
“One lady said her British passport was ‘gold dust’.”
The first positive tests had been confirmed when the ship had docked in Curacao on Tuesday, March 10 and it wasn’t until last Wednesday that the passengers were able to fly home, after diplomatic negotiations and medical arrangements had been completed.
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