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Albertans struggling to return home from the Philippines amid COVID-19

Woman recounts stress of returning to Alberta from Philippines during pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: A Grande Prairie, Alta., woman says even though she and her son were finally able to return home recently from the Philippines, many Canadians remain stranded there amid the COVID-19 pandemic and will need luck getting home if they can even afford the airfare. Sarah Komadina reports.

When Maricel Lowe and her son went to the Philippines in January to visit family, she couldn’t imagine the headache it would be to get home. The original plan was to for her husband Joseph to meet them in the Philippines on April 7, and then fly home on April 25.

After COVID-19 restrictions were put in place in March, Lowe said she booked a flight for her and her son to return home April 3rd, but then the flight was cancelled.

“I (couldn’t) sleep for two weeks, it was stressful for us,” Lowe said.

Flights are still leaving from major centres, like Manila. For those who are on remote islands, they are having issues getting a sweeper flight to be able to get to the mainland.

READ MORE: Canadians stuck in South Africa because of COVID-19 wait for answers

Lowe said she started reaching out to the Embassy of Canada in Philippines on Facebook. She eventually got through, and a few days ago was able to return home to Grand Prairie, Alta.

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“For the two of us, me and my son, we spent $4,185 for just one way ticket to Vancouver,” Lowe said.

It was an additional $750 to get a flight from there to Edmonton.

Lowe’s story isn’t unique. There are almost 800 members in the Facebook group, Canadians Stranded in the Philippines, and dozens of people are commenting on the Embassy page daily hoping to get home.

“Us Canadians, we have to pay our own and it’s expensive, there’s a lot of Canadians in the Philippines now that can’t afford to go,” Lowe said. “They keep booking the flights and then airline people keep cancelling it, so they max out their credit cards so they can’t book anymore.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Mandatory quarantine in Philippines leaves Canadians trapped abroad

Abe Preisinger was supposed to leave the Philippines for Edmonton on March 17, but just days earlier the Philippine government cancelled all domestic flights.  Preisinger said he has been calling Philippine Airlines and the Embassy, but it has been hard to get through.

Meanwhile, Preisinger said he has watched countries like Switzerland, Germany and Russia send special flights so their citizens could go home.

“I already bought three tickets to get back to Canada,” Preisinger said.

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“The flights get cancelled, and it’s very hard to get a refund. They will give you a travel voucher but you still have to pay your credit card.”

“The Canadian government needs to step up,” Preisinger said.

READ MORE: Canadian airlines suspend most international flights until May 31 due to coronavirus

Global Affairs Canada said they are working to help Canadians and permanent residents return home, but some may remain outside of the country for an undetermined amount of time.

“We are working with airlines and foreign governments to facilitates commercial flights to Canada,” Global Affairs Canada spokesperson, Krystyna Dodds, said.

“In the case of the Philippines, the Government of Canada has partnered with Philippine Airlines to provide dedicated commercial flights for stranded Canadian Citizens and Permanent Residents who wish to return to Canada.”

Canadians outside of the country who are directly affected by COVID-19 are eligible to apply for the Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad to facilitate their return to Canada and cover basic needs.

There are more 350,000 Canadians registered, including 7,681 in the Philippines.

“As registration with the service is voluntary, this is not a complete picture of Canadians outside the country, nor an indication of the number of Canadians abroad that wish to stay or leave,” Dodds said.

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