Emergency room doctor from Hamilton Health Sciences trapped in Peru due to COVID-19

Hamilton residents travelling abroad worry they won’t be able to make it back home before things travel becomes impossible.

'There was no warning,' the doctor’s husband says of Peru’s lockdown

Sarah Sellens, John Sellens, Catherine Sellens and Stephen Crosbie fear they might be stuck in Lima, Peru due to the country’s COVID-19 lockdown. (Supplied by Catherine Sellens)

Emergency room physician Dr. Catherine Sellens from Hamilton Health Sciences is stuck in Peru with her family due to the country's COVID-19 lockdown. 

When Sellens and her family woke up Monday to find that the government of Peru announced the night before it would shut the country's borders, they immediately made their way to Lima.

With minimal direction from the Canadian government and airlines cutting international flights, her experience is not unlike many others who are trapped abroad and uncertain about how to get back home. 

"There was no warning," said her husband, Stephen Crosbie, of the shutdown.

"That's what people in Canada and especially the Canadian government need to understand. It's not as if Canadian tourists have been negligent in their travel plans. It's that we were here and the situation was fine. And then all of a sudden — without warning — it was not fine." 

Eager to help back home

As a physician, Sellens said she not only wants to get home for the health and safety of her family, but to help out with the rise in Canadian cases. 

"I'm talking to my colleagues at home and they really need the extra hands. I work a lot and my being away puts all of them in a tight spot because they have to do my work too," Sellens said.

The check-in at Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima, Peru. Catherine Sellens and her family are looking for a way to get home. (Supplied by Catherine Sellens )

While Sellens says she's "angry" and "frustrated" at the government's response and that they are "anxious" to get back home, her and her family are grateful for the help they've received from locals in Peru.  

Since this all began, Sellens says there's hardly been any contact from the Canadian government. 

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau advised all Canadians travelling abroad to make their way home, and but people say they're uncertain how they'll manage that if international flights have been cancelled. 

Some travellers may be stranded

On Thursday, Trudeau said he has been working with businesses and telecommunications companies to send a text message to Canadians abroad and inform them about consular services.

He added that the government is working hard to help those who are stuck abroad and that he talked with the leaders of WestJet and Air Canada Wednesday afternoon.

The government also earmarked $5,000 to assist Canadians who need to book an emergency flight or extend the timing of their travels.

 But the government has also made clear travellers need to fly commercial airlines, that the government will not be airlifting travellers home.

Sellens, Crosbie and their kids Sarah, 17, and John, 14, left Toronto on March 11 to visit Machu Picchu — little did they know they would never make it there nor make it back home anytime soon.

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

The family was supposed to arrive home on March 22, but their flight with Air Canada was cancelled and rescheduled with Copa Airlines for April 3. 

"The Trudeau government has made a big deal of announcing this program by which it will loan stranded travelers up to $5,000 for expenses," Crosbie said.

"Well, that's almost a sad joke...people don't need the money — people need planes, people need transportation out of these foreign locations.

The Peruvian Ministry of Health has confirmed 234 positive cases on their website as of Thursday. 

Hamilton residents worry they'll face a similar fate in Spain

In light of what's happening in Peru, Gordon Morrow says his situation in Spain "could be a lot worse" but he's still concerned about getting back to Canada. 

Morrow and his wife Maureen Hills are counting down the days until their return flight home on March 24 from their hotel in Torremolinos, Spain. 

The Hamilton couple have been isolated since Monday at their hotel. They had left for a four-week vacation to the country on Feb. 24 with tour company Senior Discovery Tours. 

Since Morrow last spoke to CBC News earlier this week, he said the group has received notice that their hotel is shutting down and is moving them into another one about five kilometres away. 

"One of the comments from one of the guys (on the tour group) was, 'hey, we're 5km closer to the airport,'" Morrow said, adding that since they haven't been out of the hotel in four days, "it's almost like an adventure." 

Hotel isolation

But in general, he said people aren't that happy about the change of space. 

"I prefer to stay in this hotel from the standpoint that it's less people here. I know who they are, or a lot of them anyways," Morrow said.

"The less people there are, the better it is in terms of not getting that coming in contact with somebody who has a virus — moving to another hotel, we don't know what's there." 

He said these concerns are heightened due to increased border restrictions from the Canadian government, which has decided not to let any Canadians with the virus into the country. 

Prior to all this, when Morrow and Hill first began their trip, he said everything was going well until the Spanish government suddenly declared a state of emergency for 15 days beginning Saturday. Spain has been one of the hardest hit European countries.

The Spanish Health Ministry has confirmed 17,147 positive cases and 767 deaths on their website. 

Since the emergency declaration, Morrow said no one has been allowed to leave their hotel rooms and there's been no efforts to expedite their return home despite many of the tourists being in their mid 70s to mid 80s.  

In the last few days, he has received email communication from the Canadian Embassy that assures him he will be allowed to leave the country. 

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

While Morrow's trip departure date is coming up soon, he said that other Canadians with his travel company aren't supposed to depart until April 7 and April 14. As of now, Spanish airports are still open and so are most hotels, but Morrow is worried that won't last for long. 

"Where do you stay and how do you get out of here? That's a concern," Morrow said.  

"That's (the) issue I have with the fact that we waited this long. So the longer you wait, the more chance you have of getting something."

About the Author

Jennifer La Grassa


Jennifer La Grassa is a reporter/editor for CBC Windsor. Email: jennifer.lagrassa@cbc.ca


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