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Coronavirus: Quebec couple stuck in Peru after country goes on COVID-19 lockdown

Coronavirus: Montreal couple stuck far from home with no way out
WATCH: A Montreal-area couple is calling on the federal government to help them get back to Canada. Dan Spector reports.

As COVID-19-related travel restrictions around the world grow increasingly severe, a couple from Rigaud say they’re stuck in Peru with no way home. The South American country is on lockdown, and has banned all travel either in or out for at least two weeks.

“Within a few days, things happened very rapidly and without warning from the Peruvian government,” said Robert McKinnon from his hotel room in Cusco, Peru on Thursday.

Since Monday, Robert and his wife, Brigitte, have not been allowed to set food outside the room.

“We can’t even go in the lobby downstairs, we’re stuck in our room.,” said Brigitte McKinnon. “Police is on every corner of the streets, we can’t go out.”

The couple run the Pure Art Foundation, based in Hudson. They went to Peru with 68 volunteers to do humanitarian work as they have every year for over a decade. They help build infrastructure in a poverty-stricken area of Peru.

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Canadians stranded in Peru plead for help amid pandemic
Canadians stranded in Peru plead for help amid pandemic

“When we left home March 6th, all of us checked the regulations and restrictions, there was no concern in Peru, no coronavirus until we arrived. They had located one suspected case,” said Robert McKinnon.

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They completed their mission in the slums of Pucallpa, Peru, and most of the group went home.  The couple’s 24-year-old son, who had been with them in Peru, is now at self-quarantine at home.

READ MORE: What to know if you’re a Canadian stuck abroad amid the coronavirus outbreak

“Canada gave us warnings, and said you should come home as soon as possible, but Peruvian borders closed on my parents before they could get out,” Liam McKinnon explained over Skype.

Along with more than a dozen others, Robert and Brigitte stayed in Peru to soak in some culture. COVID-19 cases quickly increased, and the country quickly went into lock down.

“The crew that was going to Machu Pichu at the time, they were in the bus ready to go at eight in the morning and then we got word the government had shut down everything,” said Robert.

Starting March 16, Peru banned all transportation — land, air, sea and river — for at least two weeks. Everyone has been ordered to stay inside.

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“I don’t believe we should be prevented from going home to our own country. We’re healthy, we’re able,” Robert McKinnon explained.

According to the couple,  other planes have been flying during the lock down.

“Why are some people permitted to go and we are not? Why are we in a void of information?” said McKinnon.

READ MORE: ‘It’s scary’: N.B. couple stranded in Peru hoping for safe return

They have been in touch with the Canadian embassy and with their Member of Parliament, Peter Schiefke. Schiefke told Global News there are over 4,300 Canadians in Peru, and that the government is working hard to bring them home.

“There’s so much complexity to that particular situation,” he said.

“We want to make sure when we do send the resources using private carriers like Air Canada and so forth, that we’ve done all the logistical work behind the scenes to make sure when they do arrive they can get everybody out.”

In an email to Global News, the Peruvian government said they could not provide information on the subject and to contact the Canadian embassy. The Canadian embassy in Peru sent an automatic email mentioning they are getting an extremely high volume of calls and advising people to stay put.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he had spoken to the heads of Air Canada and West Jet about bringing Canadians home from abroad.

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The McKinnons just hope they’re departure will be sooner rather than later.