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Coronavirus: Surrey, B.C. rugby team struggles to get home from U.K. amid travel ban

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Amid the growing number of travel restrictions and advisories in place because of COVID-19 - a group of rugby players from South Surrey are trying to make their way back home from the U.K. We spoke with their head coach for an update – Mar 15, 2020

A Surrey, B.C., rugby team is cutting its planned European tour short and struggling to fly back home from the U.K. before new travel restrictions due to coronavirus come into effect.

Players and staff from Earl Marriott Secondary’s senior boys rugby team left Vancouver for London on Wednesday morning, with a layover in Dallas. Plans were in place for a two-week itinerary that included games in France, Germany and other countries.

By the time the team got to Dallas, everything had changed: the World Health Organization had declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic, and U.S. President Donald Trump announced heavy restrictions on travel from mainland Europe.

READ MORE: Canadians abroad urged to return home while ‘commercial options still available’

Head coach Adam Roberts said that announcement also put the team’s plans to fly back from Europe to Seattle at the end of the tour into doubt.

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“We literally pulled the kids off the plane [in Dallas] and said, ‘just wait a second, we need to make sure that we can still get out of Europe, or at least out of the U.K.’,” he told Global News Saturday.

 

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With the U.K. originally exempt from Trump’s travel restrictions, Roberts quickly got to work drawing up a new itinerary that would keep the team in that country alone. He was able to rely on contacts within the British rugby community he has maintained for decades.

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But after arriving across the pond, Roberts said it was clear the situation had gone from bad to worse.

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“People were in full panic mode with countries shutting down all around us,” he said.

“We were originally going to stay until next Friday, but then games started getting cancelled … so we made the executive decision to just pull out and go home as soon as possible because we could see the writing on the wall.”

Roberts said he spent most of the one game the team did manage to play, against Vyners School near London, on the phone arranging new flights and talking to both parents and the Surrey School District back home.

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He managed to get the team on planes from the U.K. to Seattle, which will leave just hours before a new ban on travel from that country to the U.S. comes into effect late Monday night.

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“I think we’re beating the ban by about eight hours,” he said.

READ MORE: U.S. announces new travel restrictions amid novel coronavirus pandemic

The team are set to arrive at Sea-Tac Airport Monday afternoon and take a bus to the Peace Arch border crossing, where they will walk into Canada and meet their families.

All 42 players and staff, including Roberts, will have to go into self-isolation for 14 days after arriving back home in Surrey.

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Roberts admitted the chaos has taken a toll, but said everyone surrounding the team on both sides of the Atlantic has been incredibly supportive.

“The parents, the school district, our friends here in Vyners, everyone has been amazing and understanding and helpful to us,” he said.

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“I don’t know if I can take one more blip or setback because it’s been one thing after the next. Literally just like grabbing a hose and putting out fires.”

READ MORE: Archived: Live updates on coronavirus in Canada

Roberts refused to cast blame on any person or organization for the team’s ordeal, only focusing on the fact that — for now — they’re guaranteed to be coming home Monday.

In the meantime, he said the boys on the team have been making the most of their trip abroad. Best of all, no one is showing symptoms of the virus.

“The kids are having a great time,” he said. “The bus is rocking with songs, kids are singing away and having a great time as any great tour does.

“At the same time, there’s this dark cloud above, and I can’t enjoy it. … It’s been consuming for sure.”

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