March 25, 2020 / 1:40 PM / 6 days ago

Corona shutdown strands thousands at Istanbul airport

A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at Grand Bazaar, known as the Covered Bazaar, to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Around 2,000 people have been stranded for a week at Istanbul Airport by a shutdown of flights to stem the spread of coronavirus, the airport’s operator said on Wednesday.

More than half of the travelers stuck at the airport, usually one of the world’s busiest international hubs, were Algerian citizens, with others from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, a spokesperson for airport operator IGA said.

Turkey has halted flights to some 70 countries in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 375,000 people worldwide and killed more than 16,000, according to data from World Health Organisation.

“There are around 1,500 Algerians people stranded at Istanbul Airport right now,” the spokesperson said, adding that Algerian authorities were not accepting their return for now.

Algeria’s state carrier Air Algerie said on Monday that all passenger flights were suspended. A source at the airline said no final decision had been made on repatriation. “It is up to the government to make a decision,” the source said.

Video footage posted on social media this week appeared to show scuffles between police and passengers wearing medical masks at an Istanbul Airport terminal building.

The airport operator, along with Turkish Airlines and Turkish Red Crescent are providing meals and essentials for the people stuck at the airport, IGA said in a statement.

Reporting by Ceyda Caglayan and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Turkey and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algeria; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans

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