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Stranded in India: Friends’ plea for government help to get home amid coronavirus fears

PUBLISHED: 12:40 25 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:46 25 March 2020

Diane Want and Sue Smith, with makeshift masks, The pair are stranded at Delhi airport. Pic: Claire Gebbett.

Diane Want and Sue Smith, with makeshift masks, The pair are stranded at Delhi airport. Pic: Claire Gebbett.

Claire Gebbett

Two women from Norwich are desperately hoping the government will help them travel home from India, where coronavirus has left them stranded, sleeping in an airport and with little food.

Sue Smith is stranded at Delhi airport. Pic: Claire Gebbett.Sue Smith is stranded at Delhi airport. Pic: Claire Gebbett.

Sue Smith, 73, and Diane Want, 63, went to India at the start of March for a month-long trip, but have found themselves unable to get a flight back to the UK.

They were due to return on April 1, but the pair are now stuck at Delhi airport, with very little food as shops have closed.

On Monday and Tuesday night the pair, who have made makeshift masks amid coronavirus concerns, slept on couches while they waited for news of any flights back.

Mrs Smith, who lives off Sprowston Road, said: “It’s a bit strange living in an airport departure lounge. But we are concerned because the flights ended and the food outlets shut down.

Diane Want and Sue Smith are stranded at Delhi airport. Pic: Claire Gebbett.Diane Want and Sue Smith are stranded at Delhi airport. Pic: Claire Gebbett.

“People are being very kind. We’ve got some snacks and some of the people we’ve been speaking to were brought some food by the police, so they’ve let us have some of that.”

The pair had been staying in Shillong in Northern India, but Mrs Smith’s daughter Claire Gebbett, 48, who lives in Angel Road, contacted her mum last week when prime minister Boris Johnson asked people in the UK to self-isolate.

She said it had been difficult to get information to her because riots in the region meant internet connections were affected.

Mrs Gebbett said: “By the time they had got themselves informed, it was Wednesday/Thursday and they were told there was going to be a curfew, so suddenly they couldn’t do anything and it was very difficult to book flights. So, on Saturday morning me and my family managed to get them some flights back booked.”

Diane Want during her Indian holiday. Pic: Claire Gebbett.Diane Want during her Indian holiday. Pic: Claire Gebbett.

At the weekend, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said Britons abroad should head home - but it was too late for Mrs Smith and Mrs Want.

A curfew meant taxi drivers were not willing to get them to the airport and it was not until Monday that they managed to get to Delhi airport - by which point the flights had stopped.

Mrs Gebbett said her mother and Ms Want had been given a wi-fi pod by another traveller who was leaving Delhi, allowing them some internet access.

She said: “They have been very reliant on people’s goodwill. The problem is it’s just so difficult to get through to the FCO.

“We’d just like to get her back here. If my mum was here she’d be self-isolating for being in the older category because we know older people are more vulnerable. So, you can imagine, we’re all very worried but feel so helpless.”

Mrs Smith, former head secretary at Sprowston High School, said she had spoken to the High Commissioner’s Office in India.

She and her friend, who is from Hellesdon and works at the Holiday Inn near Norwich airport, were advised to register on the government website for help getting home, which they have done.

But Mrs Smith said: “We just don’t know what is going on. There’s no-one here to ask. There were a group of about a hundred Ukranians who were due to fly out, but because we are just two Britons we are wondering what is going to happen.”

Her daughter Mrs Gebbett, who has asked Norwich North MP Chloe Smith for help, said: “We’re just waiting to see what the next couple of days hold, but we’re worried she’s going to have to stay in India for 12 weeks.

“Everything has happened very quickly, a week ago we were in a different situation in the UK and in Northern India there was little talk of it at all, so I think perhaps they were complacent and the news wasn’t getting through so much.

“They left the safety of Shillong, and they probably could have self-isolated there for a few weeks, but they took government advice to get out, it’s an emergency situation.”

An FCO spokesperson said: “We recognise British tourists abroad are finding it difficult to return to the UK because of the unprecedented international travel and domestic restrictions that are being introduced around the world – often with very little or no notice.

“The FCO is working around the clock to support British travellers in this situation to allow them to come back to the UK.

“The government is seeking to keep key transit routes open as long as possible and is in touch with international partners and the airline industry to make this happen.”

Conservative MP Ms Smith said: “This is a really worrying time and there are people from Norwich and Norfolk caught up abroad, trying to get home. As an MP, I’m helping lots of constituents on every aspect of this crisis.”

She urged people to use advice on www.gov.uk but added: “Where more is needed everyone is working incredibly hard to help.”

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