New Brunswick

Snowbirds flock back to New Brunswick

The growing coronavirus pandemic has sent a wave of New Brunswick snowbirds in Florida back north, heeding a warning from the federal government to return home.

Stays in Florida cut short as federal government calls for Canadians to return to the country

Aurel Schofield of Dieppe is near Naples, Florida. He's preparing to head back to Canada a month early as a result of the pandemic. (Submitted/Aurel Schofield)

The growing coronavirus pandemic has sent a wave of New Brunswick snowbirds back north. 

The Canadian Snowbirds Association has advised its members to head for home as the COVID-19 pandemic advances in the United States and access to out-of-country medical insurance comes to an end for some travellers.

"We've decided that we will return because of the intensity of the pandemic and everything is closing," Aurel Schofield, a retired family doctor from Dieppe, said in an interview from near Naples, Florida. 

Schofield normally spends four to five months in Florida. He's among more than 300,000 "snowbirds" Statistics Canada reports spend winters in the United States and Mexico annually.

"It's normally very beautiful, lots of sunshine," Schofield said. But as more and more cases have been reported in Florida, and businesses have begun to close, he's been fielding concerned calls from family and friends. 

Aurel Schofield has a winter home in southwest Florida near Naples. He says he'll self-isolate as much as possible on the drive home and quarantine himself once he gets back to New Brunswick (Aurel Schofield/Submitted)

Schofield plans to drive back north later this week, cutting his stay short by a month. 

"We'll gradually drive back home and do social distancing as much as we can to try to get back to home safely," Schofield said. 

Schofield says once back, he'll be relying on delivered groceries, Netflix and video calls with friends and family to get through 14 days of self-isolation. 

Former New Brunswick health minister Michael Murphy arrived in Florida last Wednesday. He was planning to stay at a condo near Naples with his wife Moira Murphy and her brother Kevin Kelly of Ottawa. Kelly's wife, a teacher, was also planning to join them.

'Unnerving experience'

But within days, the Canadian government urged Canadians abroad to return home. Kelly's wife stayed in Ontario. 

Kelly and the Murphys sought to rebook their return flights on Saturday. They say airlines told them the next flight they could book would be in six days -- and that the tickets would only be stand-by. That meant they weren't guaranteed a seat.

On Sunday morning, they began a drive back north covering more than 3,000 kilometres.

Michael Murphy said they were about four hours away from the border when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced measures to limit who can enter the country, including barring people showing symptoms of COVID-19 from boarding flights. 

Kevin Kelly, his sister Moira Murphy, and her husband Michael Murphy are self-isolating together in Moncton after returning from Florida on Monday. (Submitted/Michael Murphy)

Murphy, who has allergies, said he was sneezing and worried they wouldn't get through the border. But they were able to cross at about 9:30 p.m. Monday.

"It was a very unnerving experience," Michael Murphy said. 

"We all had a sigh - 'Oh man, it's good to be back here,'" Kelly said of being back in Canada. 

The three are now self-isolating at Murphy's downtown Moncton condo for 14 days as a precaution. 

"We're very glad we're back in Canada," he said. "Difficult and scary times. But you know, I think ultimately we're going to get through this in the next few months."

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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