Haiti’s main international airport, Toussaint Louverture, is currently closed to all non-local flights, but American carrier JetBlue landed over the weekend to fly American citizens and U.S. residents out. They had been stuck in Haiti after the government closed the airport March 16 in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince announced the flight, which was approved by Haitian and American aviation officials, on Twitter. “Event: Jet Blue Airways has been authorized to operate a flight from Port-au-Prince to Fort Lauderdale, FL Saturday, April 18.” the tweet said.
A subsequent tweet posted in Creole advised American citizens who wanted to return to the United States to book their tickets as soon as possible. The embassy said it was not aware of any authorized flights after April 18.
About 100 passengers boarded the flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Saturday.
“We’re not afraid. We know what to do, we know how to protect ourselves,” a male passenger wearing a black face mask told VOA in Creole. “We know we have to keep our shoes outside, wash our hands, (wash) the clothes we are wearing, and wear a face mask.”
“Everything I own is in the United States,” said another passenger, wearing a white T-shirt and a black scarf around his neck.
Some passengers told VOA they decided to fly out of Haiti not out of fear of catching COVID-19, but rather because they had important matters that needed their attention. Others told VOA their families had asked them to return to the States.
“It’s not that serious,” a male passenger wearing a light blue face mask and a bright yellow T-shirt told VOA. “My family misses me, and my work called me to say they’d like me to return, so I had to fly out today.”
Other passengers said they no longer feel safe in Haiti because the factories have reopened, and they fear that will increase the spread of coronavirus in the capital.
“At first there were two cases (of coronavirus) now there are 40 cases,” said a female passenger wearing a blue face mask and plastic gloves on her hands.
American pastor Jeff Brown, 56, was in Haiti doing missionary work, he said, and added he hopes to return soon.
“I think Haiti has been very lucky with the virus because up to now there haven’t been many cases,” he said. “I’m afraid to go to the United States.”
As of April 20, Haiti has a total of 57 coronavirus cases according to a statement released by the Ministry of Public Health. Of the 57 people infected, three have died and there have been no recoveries so far.
American citizens and residents who remain in Haiti are stuck for now. The U.S. Embassy announced on its Twitter account Monday that Haitian-owned Sunrise Airways is operating flights from Cape Haitian in the north, to the capital, Port-au-Prince, but that currently “there are no confirmed commercial flights from Haiti to the United States.”