Coronavirus: Mandatory quarantine in Philippines leaves Canadians trapped abroad

Melissa Woolfson and her boyfriend Devin.
Melissa Woolfson and her boyfriend Devin. Melissa Woolfson

Torontonian Melissa Woolfson and her boyfriend, Devin, are trapped halfway across the world after the Filipino city of Bacolod, where they currently reside, released an executive order quarantining everyone in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We are essentially stuck here,” Woolfson explained over the phone to Global News early Wednesday.

The 25-year-old has been interning with Global Affairs Canada International Youth program for the last five months and was set to return to Ontario on April 26.

On March 8, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte deemed the novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency.

Click to play video: 'What it’s like for a Canadian stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic'
What it’s like for a Canadian stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic

Days later, on March 11, the World Health Organization officially classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic. Woolfson said that’s when the Canadian government began to make plans to bring interns home early.

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But things, she said, began to change rapidly.

One week later, Woolfson said the mayor of Bacolod put the city under a mandatory quarantine with “no warning.”

Now, she is hoping a last-ditch flight to Manila will get her home.

Woolfson learned of the tourist-only flight early Wednesday afternoon, telling Global News she isn’t allowed to buy tickets. Instead, she will have to line up at 9 a.m. Thursday to “hopefully get on the flight.”

Woolfson added her colleague and three other interns are also caught in the Filipino lockdown.

Global Affairs Canada told Global News that it can’t comment on individual cases and that it respects “the decisions of local health authorities as they manage this public health emergency.”

“Some countries have put measures in place including closing land borders and shutting down their airspace. In some cases, measures taken have led to the complete cancellation of flights,” a statement read.

“These instances could well mean that Canadians will not be able to return home for an indeterminate period of time.”

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According to the Trudeau government, there are about three million Canadians working and living abroad, many of them stranded as borders close and airlines ground planes.

“I think it’s just realistic to know that there are some of them that will not be coming home in the coming weeks, but we will make measures available through Global Affairs Canada,” Trudeau said outside his home in Ottawa on Tuesday.

The federal government has made loans available to those abroad totalling $5,000 per person for flights and accommodations as lockdowns become the norm.

READ MORE: Coronavirus outbreak — Couple stuck in Spain amid COVID-19 outbreak as Canadians abroad try to return home

“At a time like this, you want to be home with family … in the Canadian medical care system in case you do get sick,” Woolfson said.

Woolfson says she is stressed out that she might not be able to get home and, like many other Canadians, may have to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic abroad.


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