Canadian travellers trying to return trapped by border closures for COVID-19

CUSCO, Peru — As the federal government urges Canadians overseas to return, some travellers in countries where borders are closing don’t know how they’re going to get home.

Nikita Singh and Marco Tenaglia are calling every government office and embassy they can to try and find out how — or if — they will be able to leave Peru and get back to Toronto.

The couple had just finished a trek to the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu on Sunday when they learned the government of Peru had declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19, shutting down its borders for at least 15 days.

“We were like, ‘Oh my gosh. How do we get out of the country as soon as possible? What do we do?’” Singh said from Cusco, a city 570 kilometres southeast of the closest Canadian embassy in Lima.

The couple went to the airport in Cusco to try and get any plane to Lima, where there’s an international airport. They were told all planes were full and their scheduled flight was grounded.

Peru had it’s first coronavirus case 10 days ago. As of early Monday, there were 71.

The government suspended rights to free movement and instructed people to stay in their homes. The military has been tasked with ensuring public services. Singh and her boyfriend have been directed to stay in their hotel.

“You can see already the panic that’s on the streets of Cusco. People are storming the market. There are government officials and military already out in the streets,” Singh said.

The couple were on holiday in the South American country. They had read Canadian travel advisories before leaving and believed it was safe. They expected that if the situation changed, they’d at least have ample time to get back to Canada, Singh said.

They were booked to fly back Friday, but now don’t know what will happen. They’ve called all the airlines that fly between the countries, emailed and phoned embassies and left a phone message with immigration offices in Canada.

“We haven’t even got the chance to talk to anybody to give us direct information for what to do as Canadians,” she said, adding they are lucky their hotel extended their stay.

A group of about 11 University of Toronto medical students are also struggling to return from Peru.

Reza Fakhraei said in a Twitter message that he and his classmates were also stuck in the country. After getting an advisory about the border closing, Fakhraei was able to get a hold of the consulate. He said he was told that there is no financial support to help with flight changes

It will be a complicated journey, but Fakhraei said he is hopeful he will make it to Bogota, Columbia, then to the United States and eventually Canada.

“I am still stressed because of possible flight delays and any issues that could leave us stranded,” he said.

Dr. Tony Pignatiello, associate dean with University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, said in an email that the students’ trip was not part of their studies. But the school is trying to help.

“The university will continue to stay in touch with students and provide as much information and support as possible until their safe return to Canada,” he said.

Many other countries are imposing restrictions as they try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Canadians who are travelling outside of the country should return “while it is still possible to do so.”

“Let me be clear: if you’re abroad, it’s time to come home.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2020.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

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