Russia to halt all flights at midnight on Friday, including for repatriation

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Friday said it was temporarily suspending all flights in and out of the country from midnight, including those for repatriating citizens, to limit the possibility of a new wave of coronavirus infections.

The country’s coronavirus operational centre said the suspension applied to all charter flights bringing Russians home and taking foreign citizens away, and that those wishing to fly will have to fill out a special form, which will be available from Saturday.

The government said it had allocated 500 million roubles ($6.5 million) to the foreign ministry to pay for the temporary stay of those citizens stranded abroad.

Russia, which has reported 4,149 cases of the coronavirus, and 34 deaths, suspended all regular international flights on March 27, but had said that flights for repatriating citizens would continue.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said 25,000 Russians abroad had appealed for help getting home, with many still stranded as measures to curb the spread of coronavirus have limited travel options.

An Aeroflot flight from Moscow to New York was cancelled on Friday after passengers had boarded the plane, despite assurances given earlier in the day given that it would go ahead, the U.S. embassy in Moscow said in a message to passengers seen by Reuters.

The embassy said that despite assurances, Russia had ordered cancellations without warning.

“At this point, we do not believe any international flights will be departing from the Russian Federation until further notice,” the embassy said.

A Reuters correspondent, with a ticket to New York on Saturday, received a message on Friday night saying the flight had been cancelled.

Passengers on the Friday night flight to New York were only told after boarding that it had been cancelled, U.S. citizen Elena Salomatina told Reuters.

“At the moment we don’t know what to do because Aeroflot ... they haven’t even given us water. There’s nowhere for us to go, we have no home - home is in America. For now I don’t know what to do,” she said.

Aeroflot declined to comment.

Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Andrey Kuzmin, Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alison Williams and Tom Brown