Nordic governments have stepped up cooperation to organise joint flights to repatriate nationals and permanent residents stuck abroad as countries close borders to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, the special flights will operate on a commercial basis -- meaning that prospective passengers will have to purchase tickets to board them.
"Governments will support and assist airlines by securing landing rights, for example," Haavisto explained.
Haavisto said that Nordic ministers discussed the matter in an online meeting on Friday and identified the countries where departures might be difficult.
"In these cases, we are now trying to cooperate to organise commercial flights jointly commissioned by Nordic states," he added.
Hundreds on first evacuation flights
Haavisto said that flights are continually being coordinated and information is continuously being shared among Nordic countries.
"For example Morocco has had such strict flight bans and restrictions on arrivals that ministerial assistance has been required to get permission for flights to land there."
He explained that the most difficult locations to organise evacuation flights have been Morocco, Latin America, Asia and the Philippines. He added that the situation is constantly changing.
Haavisto said the first joint repatriation flights brought back hundreds of people. Meanwhile the ministry called on companies organising return flights to monitor airline websites.
It also noted that local missions and embassies can help organise return flights. Finland currently has 90 embassies, missions and consular offices worldwide.
The minister noted that citizens' and residents' return home may also be complicated by internal travel restrictions.
"Even if planes are able to leave capital cities, it might be difficult to get to the airport. This is a cery unfortunate situation."
Living "one day at a time"
Haavisto said that people should prepare for a situation in which flights and other travel connections to certain areas will either dwindle or end entirely.
"There might be new areas with flight bans and closed airports and it's important to be ready for this as well," he commented.
He added that the situation could change rapidly.
"We are mow living one day at a a time and while commercial flights are available and airlines are offering special flights, we urge [people] to get tickets for these flights and return to Finland independently."
"Of course ultimately, we will see if governments can help with evacuations if we end up in a situation where commercial flights are not available," he added.
The minister said that the joint special flights are open to everyone returning to the Nordics, regardless of whether or not they have been abroad on a short trip or for a longer period.