Nova Scotia

As borders tighten due to COVID-19, Halifax couple scrambles to return home

Donna McInnis and Kevin Ball scrambled to book flights to return home from Spain after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced further border restrictions on Monday and told all Canadians abroad to return as soon as possible.

The couple booked flights from Spain Monday after the Prime Minister urged Canadians abroad to come home

A member of the Military Emergencies Unit carries out a general disinfection at Malaga airport on March 16, 2020. Nova Scotia couple Kevin Ball and Donna McInnis are scheduled to depart from Malaga aiport on Thursday. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images)

On the advice of public health officials, Donna McInnis and Kevin Ball are getting ready to self-isolate at their home in Halifax — but first, they have to jet between five busy airports in Europe and Canada.

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, the federal and provincial governments have been rapidly tightening travel restrictions, which have the couple worried about making it back.

McInnis, 70, and Ball, 76 have been vacationing in Spain since February, with return tickets booked for April.

Convinced by Trudeau's urging

On Monday, as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise both domestically and globally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged any Canadians abroad to return home

"We heard Prime Minister Trudeau's ominous phrase that we should not only come home, but that we should come home 'while it was still possible to get home,'" McInnis told CBC's As it Happens.

"That hastened our decision."

Spain is one of many hard-hit European countries. As of Monday evening, Spain was approaching 8,000 confirmed cases and has recorded almost 300 deaths caused by COVID-19.

Spanish authorities have declared a 15-day state of emergency and ordered a partial lockdown to keep people at home except to buy food, medicines, go to work or to the hospital or for emergencies.

Weighing their options

McInnis said she and Ball considered waiting out their host country's state of emergency, thinking it may be safer to "hunker down" and reduce the risk of exposure during multiple flights.

"Being in transit is really the riskiest part," said Ball, noting their ages, which heighten their risk for complications due to the novel coronavirus.  

But with the situation changing as fast as it has over the past few days, and not wanting to be stuck in Spain too long without access to Canadian health care, they opted to take the risk. 

Ball said the flights he booked on Monday cost about $2,000, and McInnis said the process of buying tickets left her shaking — some seats they tried for disappeared before they could finish the purchase.

Now, McInnis said the major uncertainty before them is how they'll fare on the journey home.

Sick travelers to be turned away

Under normal circumstances, McInnis said she often gets exhausted and sick from trans-Atlantic travel.

"It's tiring," she said. "And this is going to be much more tiring, much more stressful, and the risks are much greater."

McInnis has a chronic bronchial condition that could pose a problem for the return to Canada.

In his public address Monday, Trudeau said airlines had been advised to screen passengers for illness and not allow anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to board planes back to Canada.

McInnis' condition causes her to cough, especially when she's anxious, and it makes her more susceptible to illness.

"So I'm going to have to be doubly careful," she said.

If their journey goes according to plan, McInnis and Ball will arrive in Halifax late Friday. At that point, McInnis said, she and Ball would be "looking forward to tucking ourselves in for two weeks at home."

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