Emergency flights must be allowed to go ahead for up to one million Britons estimated to be stranded overseas as countries impose travel bans over the coronavirus pandemic.

The call was made by the boss of air charter firm Air Partner which worked with the Foreign Office to repatriate passengers from coronavirus cruise ship Diamond Princess from Japan last month.

Chief executive Mark Briffa spoke out in the wake of the Foreign Office telling British people to return to the UK ahead of the country being forced into lockdown.

Briffa revealed that the company is working with customers in the cruise sector to repatriate “significant volumes” of passengers, adding: “We must be allowed to continue to do so”.

He said: “Airports and airways need to remain open for urgent travel and transportation, but currently the trend is going in the other direction, towards universal closure, despite the fact that there are still countless people stranded around the world, with limited – if any – means of getting back to their home countries.

“Presently, there are an estimated 300,000 to one million Britons stranded overseas, many of whom cannot afford the drastically inflated ticket prices for the few flights that are operating back to the UK.

“Governments must have the appropriate designations and approvals in place to enable evacuations and repatriations to take place.”

Briffa added: “Our business, like all others in the global aviation industry, is feeling the impact of Covid-19, but we all understand that, in the health interests of global citizens, travel must be restricted in order to contain the virus.

“But the key here is that travel is restricted, not ‘blanket banned’.  We simply ask that proportionate measures are taken.

“We opened up the skies so that we could transport people and goods quickly and efficiently around the globe: let’s not close them entirely when we need to do this more than ever, in order to fly people safely home and get supplies to those who desperately need them.”