Special flights chartered by the Swiss and French governments to help citizens stranded due to the coronavirus crisis are leaving from Phnom Penh International Airport, with some embassy officials saying that the flights would likely be the last to head back to Europe from Cambodia for the foreseeable future.
Secretariat of Civil Aviation secretary of state Chea Aun said an Airbus A340 chartered by Switzerland’s government left Phnom Penh at about 8 a.m. on Friday. He said the plane had a capacity of between 400 and 500 people but he did not know how many people were on board when the plane departed.
Cambodia Airports public relations director Khek Norinda said he believed 182 passengers were on board on Swiss charter flight but did not know for sure. A Facebook page belonging to Thongsin Noreak Seung, an aircraft engineer at the Phnom Penh airport, also said that 182 passengers had been on board.
Aun said at midday Friday, a Boeing 747 sent by France’s government also landed at the airport. It is due to take back stranded French citizens on Saturday.
A plea from the French Embassy on Facebook on Wednesday said any of the country’s citizens in Cambodia should take advantage of the flight, which it said still had seats, as no more chartered or commercial flights would be likely.
“No one can know how long this situation will last. So we strongly recommend that you take this opportunity of the special flight of April 4 to return,” it said.
Phnom Penh International Airport director Sao Wathana said he also did not have official numbers of the amount of people leaving on the flights. However, he said health ministry officials had been sent to the airport to scan those departing for high temperatures or other signs of being infected with the Covid-19 illness.
Wathana praised the cooperation between the various Cambodian government ministries and the European embassies to make the charter flights possible.
“For all measures, we have cooperated with each other well,” Wathana said.
The Facebook page for Cambodia Airports Page posted had said on Tuesday that officials had helped 446 European Union and Swiss nations return home already. Germany itself had chartered two flights for Europeans on Sunday.
A group of Australians stranded in Cambodia have also been pushing for their government to help them to charter a flight at the cost of passengers but have so far been rebuffed. Instead, Australian embassy officials have advised citizens to make use of the few commercial routes left via Tokyo or Seoul to fly home.
Cambodia has so far reported 114 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 35 recoveries.