A DREAM holiday has become a desperate situation for a Gwent couple stranded in Panama during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Lee Jenkins and Elen Williams, from Abergavenny, are effectively trapped on the island of Bastimentos after the Panamanian government ordered a mandatory quarantine, with restrictions on movement being enforced by the police and security forces.

South Wales Argus:

Lee Jenkins and Elen Williams, from Abergavenny, are stranded in Panama during a coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Lee Jenkins

They arrived in Panama on March 2 to celebrate Mr Jenkins' 50th birthday and "fulfil a lifetime dream".

At the time, the Covid-19 outbreak had not been classed as a pandemic and there were 39 confirmed cases in the UK.

But since then, Mr Jenkins said the situation in Panama had "changed extremely rapidly" and they had received little guidance from their travel agent, airline, and the UK government.


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Mr Jenkins, who runs a conservation project in South Wales, said the British embassy in Panama had been closed for more than a week, and was "not responding" to countless calls and emails.

Normal flights in and out of Panama have been suspended until at least April 22, though some European airlines are running repatriation flights.

Getting to an airport presents its own challenges. The country's main airport in Panama City is eight hours away, all public transport has been suspended, and there are roadblocks all around the country – travellers must have documents justifying their presence on the roads.

The UK government's Foreign Office (FCO) is currently advising its citizens in Panama to "seek accommodation for the duration" of the lockdown.

Mr Jenkins said "it’s all very well staying in a nice warm country by the sea", but they worry about Panama's ability to deal with the coronavirus outbreak should it worsen.

There are to date 558 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Panama, with eight deaths; and the FCO describes medical facilities outside Panama City as being "limited".

Mr Jenkins said he is also worrying about he and his partner's safety – as the government tightens lockdown measures, he said locals are becoming "more wary" of tourists.

These concerns have been compounded by the lack of response from the British embassy.

Mr Jenkins said he would like to "feel like someone [in the UK government] actually knows that we are here and we are stranded, [and] we would also like to know their plans for helping us in the near future".

The FCO does not comment on individual cases but a spokesman said the government was "working around the clock" to support UK citizens abroad.

“We recognize British tourists abroad are finding it difficult to return to the UK because of the unprecedented international travel and domestic restrictions that are being introduced around the world – often with very little or no notice," he said.

"The government is seeking to keep key transit routes open as long as possible and is in touch with international partners and the airline industry to make this happen.

"Consular staff are supporting those with urgent need while providing travel advice and support to those still abroad.”