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Okanagan, B.C. residents struggle to return to Canada amid outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic

Okanagan residents struggle to return to Canada amid coronavirus

As the federal government advises Canadians abroad think about returning to this country as soon as possible, some Okanagan residents have been able to get back while others have found themselves stranded.

Global News spoke with two valley residents who took off last week before Canada’s global advisory against non-essential travel was issued and struggled to get home.

Summerland resident Brandyn Steele was one of them.

READ MORE: Canada, U.S. to temporarily close border to non-essential traffic over coronavirus

Steele and a relative had been planning their trip to Norway to visit a friend since last year, but it was quickly cut short by rapidly escalating measures to combat COVID-19.

“We started to see very drastic and very quick changes being made by the government of Norway, putting in a lot of different closures to ferries, to smaller airports,” said Steele.

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Once they decided to cut their trip short, with limited access to cell service in Norway, they relied on family in Summerland to help get them back home.

“[There were] very long wait times on hold, no flights were available, very limited seating,” said Steele.

“There was nothing left. It was business class and first class so you had to pay to get out of the country quite a lot of money, but for us we kind of determined it is going to be more beneficial to pay that money to get out and get home.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Canada is enhancing its child-care benefit. Here’s how much parents will get

The Summerland man is relieved to be back in Canada.

“To see now that Canadians are being told get home as soon as you possibly can, that is a very scary thought,” Steele said.

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“I really feel for the people who are still out there away from their friends, away from their family.”

It’s a terrifying but realistic situation that another Okanagan man is now facing.

After traveling to the island of Panglao in the Philippines last week, Oliver Chapman said local travel restrictions mean he’s essentially stuck there.

“It is a bit of a ghost town in this part of the Philippines,” he said.

Chapman described being one of only about a dozen guests in a complex built for hundreds.

“I’m a little frustrated because basically it is supposed to be just a quick two-and-a-half-week trip and it is turning into an almost two-month trip. Nobody really knows what’s going on,” Chapman said.

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READ MORE: Trudeau closes Canadian borders to most foreign travellers amid coronavirus outbreak

The Coldstream man said that if he had know his return flight to Manila would be cancelled he wouldn’t have have left Canada.

He said he’s been told the earliest he might get a flight off the island is now mid-April, but even that might not go ahead, and he is facing escalating costs.

The federal government has said it will provide emergency loans of up to $5,000 to Canadians abroad.

“It will help people who need immediate financial assistance return home or cover their needs if they have to wait to get back,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a Tuesday press conference.

Global Affairs Canada said Canadians who need emergency consular assistance should call their 24/7 call centre at 1-613-996-8885 or email sos@international.gc.ca.

However, it noted it’s getting a “high volume of requests” and is “working as fast as possible to respond to Canadians.”