Nova Scotia

'Overwhelming': Nova Scotians stuck in Peru call for emergency flights home

Three Halifax men are trying to keep their spirits up as they deal with military law from a shared hotel room in southern Peru. Ian Melanson, Jordan Taggart, and Neal Andreino are stuck dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in the South American country unless Canada sends in emergency planes.

Halifax man says it was like 'all hell broke loose' when state of emergency imposed

Nova Scotians Jordan Taggart, left, Ian Melanson, centre, and Neal Andreino are stuck in Peru and unable to return home due to COVID-19. (Jordan Taggart)

Nova Scotians stranded in Peru due to COVID-19 restrictions are calling on the federal government to send in emergency planes, as regular flights remain grounded and military law sets in.

Halifax firefighters Ian Melanson and Jordan Taggart, along with their real estate agent friend Neal Andreino, have hunkered down in a hotel room in Arequipa, a city in southern Peru.

Like many Canadians hoping to return home from other countries where air travel has come to a halt, including Ecuador, Morocco and the Philippines, they say the federal government's offer of $5,000 in emergency loans is not much help.

"There's no commercial options for us to leave the country, so really … our hands are tied," Melanson told CBC's Information Morning Thursday via Facetime.

Last Friday, the federal government told Canadians to cancel non-essential travel abroad and the next day urged those travelling internationally to come home.

The three men, who had planned to carry on to Colombia earlier this week after two weeks backpacking in Peru, had recently switched their flight to return home to Nova Scotia on March 21 given the unfolding situation.

However, they woke up on Monday to "complete mayhem" as the Peruvian government had decided to shut down all airports and road networks.

Melanson said he and his friends have been told not to leave their hotel in Arequipa, Peru. (Jordan Taggart)

On Sunday, President Martin Vizcarra issued a 15-day nationwide state of emergency declaration and immediately ordered the borders closed, with nobody allowed in or out.

"It's been a little overwhelming I suppose, things changed so rapidly," Melanson said. "We woke up the morning of the 16th and it was like all hell broke loose. The day before that you wouldn't have had any idea there was a global pandemic."

CBC News has heard from multiple other Nova Scotian families who are worried for their children and loved ones dealing with the same situation in Peru.

Melanson said they tried driving to the capital Lima in a rental car where they hoped for help from the Canadian embassy, but en route they heard news that the embassy had shut down.

Word also came that roads between cities would be shutting down at midnight, so they decided to book a hotel room for two weeks in Arequipa.

'Pretty bad at this point'

They were able to get some food (mostly ramen noodles given a limited market selection) earlier this week even with a heavy police presence on the streets. However, on Thursday Melanson said front desk staff warned them not to go out again.

At the moment, their hotel is still offering room service, clean towels and toiletries. Melanson said they've heard of arrests in Lima and Cusco as martial law has been imposed, and said it likely won't be long before their city follows suit.

"It's actually pretty bad at this point now, it's become kind of nervewracking with the police presence and the military presence. It would be nice to be home — pretty much anywhere on Canadian soil would be comforting," said Andreino.

With no regular flights allowed in and out of the country, the Nova Scotians are hoping the federal government can work with airlines to send emergency flights to Peru to lift them out. Israel already has taken this step, with the first plane set to arrive Thursday.

But the federal government has said it has no plans to repatriate Canadian from other countries, so many travellers will be stuck for some time.

"There are three million Canadians at any given moment around the world, living and working, and I think it is just realistic to know that there are some of them who will not be coming home in the coming weeks," Trudeau told reporters Tuesday from self-isolation.

However, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday he's working on arrangements to bring back a group of more than 20 high school students who are stuck in Peru. Ford said Air Canada would be sending a plane to repatriate the students, but did not give an exact timeline.

While their moods have been up and down with so much change, Taggart said their group is trying to stay positive.

"We're just going to ride it out hopefully just for the 15 days, and hopefully they don't extend it any longer," he said.

With files from Information Morning