Restricted travel leaves Islanders abroad struggling to get home

The federal government's announcement that Canadians should return home is causing many Islanders to worry about how to make that happen. 

'They're at a bit of a loss as to how they're going to get back'

The federal government has told Canadians abroad to get home as soon as possible while commercial flights are still available — but many are running into problems. (John Robertson/CBC)

After the federal government Saturday told Canadians abroad to come home to help curb the coronavirus's spread, many Islanders have been struggling to make that happen. 

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne recommended Saturday Canadians travelling abroad should return to Canada while commercial transportation is still available — as did Global Affairs Canada on Friday .

"There's certainly some anxiety here," said Charlottetown MP Sean Casey, who has heard from Islanders in Peru, Switzerland and the United States trying to return to P.E.I. as quickly as possible.

"They're at a bit of a loss as to how they're going to get back."

The group in Peru is scrambling to try to leave, especially since all air traffic has been halted there. The Islanders in Switzerland are concerned they won't get back into Canada. And the person in the U.S. has nowhere to self-isolate upon returning to P.E.I. 

'Pretty tense situation

Monday, the Canadian government announced an emergency loan program for travellers affected by COVID-19, allowing them to apply for a loan up to $5,000. 

But Casey says people still have many questions, and they're reaching out to his office for help. 

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey says 90 per cent of calls and emails to his office are now related to COVID-19. (CBC)

"The whole thing is developing so quickly that all too often we don't have all of the details that people want when they're in a stress situation," he said. "What we know now is that there is a program. What we don't know is what all the details are." 

Casey is communicating with Charlottetown's mayor to make sure everyone has the newest information.

For those overseas, he said their "lifeline" is the Canadian embassy or the Canadian consulate — but in the Peruvian capital of Lima the embassy is closed to the public, and the Peruvian government has issued a mandatory 15-day quarantine period and cancelled international flights.

"The ones in Peru is a pretty tense situation," said Malpeque MP Wayne Easter, who has also heard from Islanders in Morocco, Florida, the Dominican Republic and throughout Europe.

"The government there has completely shut down … they're worrying about getting low on food which they are, in fact, doing."

Here in Canada, borders are closed to all travelers except Canadian citizens, permanent residents, diplomats, airline crews and Americans. 

"What I tell them is we will work as hard as we can on their case," said Easter. "Our folks there are trying to find the ways and means to get them into the country and get them home."

'Avalanche of problems'

For those who do return to Canada, federal and public health officials are asking they self-isolate for 14 days.  

Regardless of political affiliations, MP Wayne Easter says everyone is working together to find solutions. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"Take this seriously," said Easter. "One person who comes back doesn't self-isolate and happens to be the one that has the virus can create an avalanche of problems for others in their own community."

Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey is also getting questions. Morrissey said all seven phone lines in his office failed yesterday because of the high volume of calls. 

Callers said they are concerned about their income, health and — similar to Casey and Easter — getting home. 

"We've had inquiries from Australia, South America, Europe, U.S. and the Caribbean Islands," Morrissey said.

He said his office is helping where they can. In one case, his assistant even booked a P.E.I woman's flight back to Canada. 

'Somewhat reassuring'

The future remains uncertain but Casey said Islanders are resilient and should be proud of how they've responded to this situation. 

The Charlottetown airport will be a welcome sight for many Islanders now struggling to return from travel abroad. (John Robertson/CBC)

"Most people are healthy enough to withstand a virus," he said. "But all of those people respect the fact that not everyone is, and they are taking these measures out of concern for their fellow Islanders as opposed to their own convenience. And it's actually somewhat reassuring."

When asked if he was surprised by all those willing to help others in need of groceries and medication, Casey laughed. 

"I would be amazed if it was any other way. It's what we've come to expect, and that's the kind of place we live in."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.
  • But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

    What should I do if I feel sick?

    Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

    How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.
  • More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


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