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Stranded in South America as COVID-19 spreads, Canadian travellers anxiously await rescue

Canadians stranded in Peru plead for help amid pandemic
WATCH: Scores of Canadians working and living abroad are trying in vain to return home, but travel restrictions and bans over COVID-19 have them fearing they'll be stranded indefinitely.

Despite government efforts to bring them home, some Canadian travellers stranded by the COVID-19 pandemic say they are not optimistic about returning home soon.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne tweeted that the Canadian government had “secured authorizations for @AirCanada to operate 3 flights this week” from Peru. 

READ MORE: Canada to send flights to Peru, Spain to help citizens stranded by COVID-19 — Trudeau

The South American country has closed its borders, forcing residents into quarantine to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

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But Chelsea Widdicombe, who has been stranded with a friend in Cusco, Peru for two weeks, expressed doubts that the upcoming flights could accommodate the thousands of Canadians in that country trying to get home.

“I can definitely say I am losing hope on this issue,” Widdicombe said.

“I truly feel that if we do not get a flight this week, we are here for the long haul.”

READ MORE: Canada working with commercial airlines to repatriate stranded citizens

Widdicombe says she and her friend, Clifford Scott Robinson — both Ontario residents — have been spending their time watching movies, reading and knitting.

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“But most of all, we are on our phones, constantly trying to watch for any update from the government,” Widdicombe said.

Chelsea Widdicombe and friend, Clifford Robinson, in Cusco, Peru before the country closed its borders. (Submitted)
Chelsea Widdicombe and friend, Clifford Robinson, in Cusco, Peru before the country closed its borders. (Submitted)

In another Peruvian city, Arequipa, Nova Scotian Ian Melanson and two fellow backpackers are also seeking details of repatriation flights.

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“We have heard of people in Arequipa that have gotten phone calls about buses to transport to Lima, but none of us have gotten any word at all,” Melanson said, adding that the three men were pursuing more information from Global Affairs “to sort things out.”

Ian Melanson, left, and friends Jordan Taggart and Neil Andreino, are stranded in Peru. (submitted)
Ian Melanson, left, and friends Jordan Taggart and Neil Andreino, are stranded in Peru. (submitted)

From Nova Scotia, Melanson’s mother, Anne, said the announcement of three flights from Peru “is absolutely what we hoped for,” noting there is still stress about logistics and whether every Canadian who wants and needs to leave Peru will get to do so.

“It’s been a real roller-coaster of emotions over the last week, so it’s fair to say we’ll all remain anxious until the wheels of those planes land safely here at home,” she said.

COVID-19: Repatriating Canadians is ‘on a scale we have never seen before’ – Champagne
COVID-19: Repatriating Canadians is ‘on a scale we have never seen before’ – Champagne

Widdicombe, meanwhile, admits her fears about being infected with the virus are growing.

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“The longer we stay here, the more likely it is that we will get it in Peru,” she said. “If we get it, we will have to stay here for at least an extra four weeks. We need flights home now so this doesn’t happen.

“Canadians need to get home to their own health-care system.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Stranded Canadian travellers call on Trudeau for flights home

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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