Hamiltonians vacationing abroad look for ways to get back to Canada

Hamilton residents travelling abroad find themselves with limited options of getting back.

An elderly couple in Spain and another in Chile don't know when they will return home

The view from the dining hall of Gordon Morrow's hotel in Torremolinos, Spain. (Supplied by Gordon Morrow)

Three weeks ago, Gordon Morrow and his wife Maureen Hills left Hamilton for a month-long vacation in Spain — but for the past two days, they've been taking in the sights from the confines of their hotel room. 

They are two of many Canadians experiencing Spain's COVID-19 lock-down first-hand. And the Hamilton couple are among many Canadians marooned abroad, wondering how and when they'll get home as the federal government tightens border controls and urges Canadians overseas to return as soon as possible.

"The concern that we have and a lot of people here have is (that our return trip is) well over a week away, everything could be shut down by then and maybe we don't get out of here on that date," Morrow, 65, told CBC News from his hotel room in Torremolinos, Spain on Monday. 

As the couple fret over how they're going to return from Spain, another couple from Ancaster is stuck on a cruise ship floating on the South Pacific Ocean near the coast of Chile.

Randy Raphael and his wife, Barbara, both in their 60s, were supposed to dock at the San Antonio port on Sunday along with the rest of the passengers aboard the Celebrity Eclipse, run by Celebrity Cruises — now they aren't sure when they'll get off the ship, let alone return to Canada.

"We have no clue," he told CBC News.

On Feb. 24, Morrow and 34 other Canadian seniors embarked on a vacation to Spain with travel company Senior Discovery Tours. With about one week left, the trip has taken a turn for the worse — no one is allowed to leave their hotel rooms and there's been no plan to expedite their return. 

Over the weekend, the Spanish government declared a state of emergency for 15 days beginning Saturday. As of Monday afternoon, Spain had 9,191 cases — the second highest number in Europe following Italy. 

The majority of the people on Morrow's tour group are in their mid-to-late 70s, with others in their early-to-mid 80s, he estimates. Given the ages of those on the trip, Morrow said he thinks the tour company should prioritize their return home. 

Gordon Morrow video-called CBC News from his hotel in Torremolinos, Spain. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"I mean it's a scary situation for everybody…I'm more concerned for the older people than myself, but nonetheless being at home and being isolated at home at least you kind of know that you're there — it's your country, (if) you have problems you know what's going to happen. Here you really don't know what's in store, if something should happen." 

Tour managers have assured him that they will be flying out on their planned departure date of March 24, but Morrow still has his doubts. 

"Just a couple of days ago, things kind of changed and the government declared an emergency and essentially we're all required to stay in hotels, preferably our hotel room," Morrow said, adding that to his knowledge none of the hotel guests have COVID-19. 

Randy Raphael, 66 from Ancaster, was supposed to be planning his return to Canada on Sunday — now he's waiting to get off a cruise ship in Chile. (Bobby Hristova/CBC/FaceTime)

Shortly after speaking with CBC, Morrow received a letter at his door, which states that guests aren't allowed to leave the hotel unless they require food or pharmacy products and will face fines of € 600 to € 30,000 should they fail to comply. 

Aside from this, Morrow says very little information has been shared with them. 

In an emailed statement to CBC, Senior Discovery Tours said, "At this time, all of our clients are safe and abiding by the COVID 19 restrictions placed on them by the country they are currently in. We are working diligently to bring them home as soon as possible and we have resources on the ground ensuring that they are well taken care of. Beyond that, we cannot comment further, as this situation is changing by the minute." 

The statement continues to say that tour managers are on the ground to oversee their groups and that the company's website is being updated on a regular basis with new information. 

Morrow's only other option would be to book his own return, but flights are costly and put him at a higher risk of getting sick. 

"I'm not sure what's more anxiety-provoking for me," Morrow said. 

"For me and for other people who decided not to do it, part of it is the money and part of it is just the anxiety of doing it on your own and not knowing what could happen in the end." 

At this time, Morrow said there's been no talk of a refund for the trip but that he doesn't expect or care about that — he just wants to get home. 

"If anybody is considering coming here, cause I know people are still thinking about it, I would say don't come here right now, even if you think that it's not as bad as they say — it's as bad as they say. You're not going to do anything other than stay in your hotel." 

Stuck on cruise ship off Chile

The  Raphael's 122,000 tonne ship cruised to Uruguay and around Cape Horn before Sunday. On the last leg of the trip, it approached the San Antonio port in Chile, roughly 100 kilometres from the capital city, Santiago.

But the Chilean government wouldn't let the ship dock as the country deals with at least 17 confirmed cases.

"The port of San Antonio, Chile, is now closed to all cruise ships. Celebrity Cruises is working with government officials to provide a controlled debarkation plan for that would ensure all guests have travel arrangements to leave the country," read an email statement from the agency.

Raphael said the crew told guests there are no COVID-19 cases on board and no one is showing signs of illness. He adds there are roughly 400 Canadians on board, but CBC has been unable to confirm this number with Celebrity Cruises.

Raphael and his wife landed by plane in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Feb. 26 before boarding the cruise on March 1. 

He added it was "disappointing" he and his wife wouldn't be able to end their trip on Sunday, but isn't scared about contracting the virus as the crew has been sterilizing the ship. 

'If you're abroad, it's time for you to come home'

Though he is nervous about returning to Canada.

"I've been hearing they're going to close the border … that is a concern," he said. "The captain said they might book chartered planes to get us, but I don't know." 

Gordon Morrow and his wife Maureen Hills have had a good look at this empty beach in Torremolinos, Spain, confined in their hotel room. They don't know when they'll be allowed to come home. (Gordon Morrow)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday afternoon the country is denying entry to non-citizens or residents, with some exceptions.

He added that the federal government is mandating air carriers to screen passengers with symptoms of the novel coronavirus out of lines so they don't board planes back to Canada.

Trudeau also said any incoming Canadians will self-isolate and highly encouraged social distancing.

"If you're abroad, it's time for you to come home," he said.

"I know this news will spark concern among Canadians travelling abroad. I want to assure you that our government will not leave you unsupported."

With files from Kathleen Harris and CBC News


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