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B.C. man finally home after month-long Diamond Princess, U.S. quarantine ordeal

B.C. Man trapped on Diamond Princess cruise returns home after being quarantined for COVID-19
WATCH: A Fort Langley man is back on Canadian soil after spending nearly a month in quarantine - in a cruise ship and at a U.S. military base - after being exposed to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Grace Ke reports.

It’s been nearly a month since Spencer Fehrenbacher’s quarantine ordeal started aboard the COVID-19-riddled Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan and the Fort Langley man is finally home.

Fehrenbacher arrived at Vancouver International Airport on Wednesday with his father Scott, who had travelled down to California to retrieve him from Travis Air Force Base.

“It finally feels like I can relax. It feels like a really large weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” said Fehrenbacher.

“The constant fear that at any point I might go from being one of the non-infected to one of the infected, and the slightest tingle in the back of my throat could be that indicator.

“Every day, going through my day self-analyzing and questioning.”

READ MORE: B.C. confirms 13th case of COVID-19, woman in her 80s in critical condition

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While Fehrenbacher is a Canadian permanent resident, he remains a U.S. citizen, which is why he was repatriated on a U.S. flight to California.

He said he had one scary moment upon arriving at the base.

“Once we landed, somebody up the front of the plane in a hazmat suit said, ‘excuse me is, Mrs. Such-and-Such’ on the plane,” said Fehrenbacher, adding that the woman was sitting directly behind him.

Coronavirus outbreak: Canadians from Diamond Princess cruise criticize safeguards during quarantine
Coronavirus outbreak: Canadians from Diamond Princess cruise criticize safeguards during quarantine

“Another person walked up to her and said, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, you and your husband are staying on the plane, you’ll both be going on to Omaha, Nebraksa.'”

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Fehrenbacher later learned everyone flying to Omaha had tested positive for the virus.

READ MORE: Federal government charters plane to evacuate Canadians on board Diamond Princess

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Arriving at the base was only the halfway point of Fehrenbacher’s ordeal.

He had to spend another two weeks in quarantine before he could leave, the sight of bunny-suit clad Centre for Disease Control (CDC) staff going from surreal to normal.

“At first it was scary, you’d only seen them in movies before,” he said.

“It’s weird how desensitized we’ve become to it. We see people walking around in full hazmat suits and it doesn’t strike us as unordinary any more, it’s just kind of routine.”

Fehrenbacher was released Monday, and his father was there to pick him up.

B.C resident coming home after being quarantined on the Diamond Princess
B.C resident coming home after being quarantined on the Diamond Princess

“Up to that last minute when the bus came through we were still holding our breaths,” said Scott.

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“I jumped out of my car — I don’t think I even closed the door — ran up to him and gave him a big hug. I don’t have a problem saying I cried a bit.

“You may remember on Monday, President Trump actually tweeted that he would consider closing borders. That doesn’t feel good when you’re out of the country, so we wanted to get back here right away.”

Now, back in Canada, Fehrenbacher said he plans to head to the pub to have a celebration beer with family and friends.

B.C. health officials confirm 13th case of COVID-19
B.C. health officials confirm 13th case of COVID-19

He told Global News he’s learned two lessons over the course of the ordeal: the value of being close to the ones you love, and empathizing with others.

READ MORE: COVID-19: B.C. man on quarantined Japanese cruise ship gets early flight home on U.S. plane

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“Do I think some things [with the cruise quarantine] could have been done better? Absolutely,” he said.
“But Just understanding that there is value in being empathetic to those people [handling the crisis] who are in those difficult positions.”

His father said the situation has made him realize just how important public health is.

“When it comes to public health borders are meaningless, and it’s all up to us to have the responsibility to protect each other,” he siad.

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“I’m proud of British Columbia; they’re way ahead on this. And it feels good to be back here.”

— With files from Grace Ke