Coronavirus: Nearly 170 French Returnees from Russia by Plane

General News
French Ambassador to Russia Pierre Levy at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow where French people are preparing to be repatriated on April 4, 2020.

A flight organized by the French Embassy allowed the repatriation of French nationals, who were stranded in Russia.

Going back to France, one of the European countries most affected by coronavirus , or staying in Russia where the number of infected people is skyrocketing after having been insignificant for a long time?

For Christian Querouix, a French pensioner who sat on Saturday 4th April 2020 on a special flight from Moscow to Paris, the decision to leave the largest country in the world was taken reluctantly.

“I am diabetic and I am at the end of my medication,” he explained to AFP, seated in a wheelchair, before boarding the Moscow airport of Sheremetyevo.

“Otherwise I would not be back given the shit there is in France and given that here is better”, continued this former entrepreneur of 69 years living part of the year in Saint Petersburg.

Read also: Covid-19: 7,560 dead, including 2,028 in Ehpad… update in France on Saturday

Nearly 170 returnees

Like him, nearly 170 people took Saturday a flight organized exceptionally by the French embassy to repatriate nationals wishing to return from Russia.

The aircraft, chartered by Air France, included a majority of French but also Belgians, Germans, Swiss and British.

There was also “a family with a little boy who has a serious eye disease and who is going to be operated on in Lausanne,” said Pierre Lévy, the French ambassador, present to meet the passengers.

The Russian company Aéroflot having announced Tuesday the suspension of its flights to Paris, one of the last big European cities which it still served, the Embassy had to organize itself quickly.

Passengers at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow are preparing to be repatriated to their country, on April 4, 2020
Passengers at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow are preparing to be repatriated to their country, on April 4, 2020. (© AFP / Yuri KADOBNOV)

“Rather in France than here”

A student in Saint Petersburg, Joséphine de Gouville, 22, decided to leave because of a conflict with the owner of her apartment.

“It’s a bit of heartbreak because I was just halfway through my six months of exchange,” she regrets, saying nevertheless reassured to return to a country “with the familiar healthcare system”.

A similar reflection for the passenger Renata Levexier, 52, a Franco-Polish working in Russia:

“I am not 100% sure that the information concerning the epidemic in Russia is reliable (…) and I prefer to be sick in France rather than here.”

According to the latest official figures, Russia has 4,731 proven cases of coronavirus and 43 deaths, a toll that continues to increase, especially in Moscow, the main focus of the country, after being very low until mid-March.

No return of Russian citizens abroad

To ward off the pandemic, Russian President Vladimir Putin extended the week-long work stoppage imposed for a week across Russia until Thursday until the end of the month.

At the same time, the regional authorities were given the responsibility of fixing the terms of the containment of the population, applied in the majority of the country.

The Russian authorities have also announced the temporary suspension of flights allowing the return of thousands of Russian citizens wishing to return from abroad.

Conversely, the situation was not perfectly clear on Saturday regarding the departure of other flights allowing the departure of foreigners present in Russia.

“But it is not in the interest of the authorities to have” floating foreigners “on Russian territory, said the French ambassador, Pierre Lévy.

Among the latter, some, however, decided to stay. This is the case of Alain, 68, an expatriate in Russia, met in front of the airport when he had just decided, at the last minute, to board the flight chartered by the embassy.

“The plane is full and you have 200 people breathing the same air conditioning, the same air,” he said, his bags in hand. “And if someone has the coronavirus, it is possible that they will spread it to everyone.”

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