‘Is this ever going to end?’: Why some Canadian travellers can’t come home despite Trudeau’s plea

“Bring us home.” That’s Shirley Mancino’s message to Justin Trudeau after the prime minister pleaded earlier this week for Canadians abroad to return to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mancino, 74, and husband, Michael Clement, 75, left their home in Westport, Ont., in January to spend the winter in Cuenca, Ecuador. They were set to fly home on April 8, but their plan was dashed when Ecuador closed its borders on March 16 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

“The president of Ecuador just slammed the door completely,” said Clement from the couple’s rented apartment in Cuenca. “Meanwhile, Trudeau is telling us, ‘Why don’t you come home?'”

The couple joins many frustrated Canadians who were instructed to return to Canada, but can’t. That’s because they’re trapped in countries that have shut their borders and/or grounded international flights in an attempt to curb the rise of COVID-19 cases. 

CBC News has heard from dozens of Canadian travellers who said they’re stranded in Ecuador, Panama, Morocco, Italy, Peru, Russia and the Philippines, or stuck on a cruise ship that can’t find a place to dock.

Shirley Mancino and Michael Clement are confined to their rented apartment in Ecudaor, while the country is in a lockdown to help curb the spread of COVID-19. (CBC/Facetime)

On Monday, Trudeau offered up to $5,000 in loans to help Canadians fly home.

But Clement and Mancino said it’s not cash they need, but instead the federal government to work with Ecuador to help them get a flight out. 

“We’re going to pay. That’s not an issue,” said Clement. “We just want the means and help — political help to make it happen.”

We don’t know what the future is going to bring. We don’t know how the food situation is going. You know, there’s all kinds of things that could go wrong.– Shirley Mancino

Mancino has sent emails to the Foreign Affairs Department and her local member of Parliament, detailing their situation, but so far, has received no offer of assistance. Meanwhile, the couple remains largely confined to their apartment as Ecuador has closed many businesses and has instructed people to stay home. 

“We don’t know what the future is going to bring. We don’t know how the food situation is going. You know, there’s all kinds of things that could go wrong,” said Mancino.

There may be help

On Friday, Trudeau offered a glimmer of hope, stating that his government is talking to major airlines about bringing home stranded Canadians. He said a commercial flight has already been arranged this weekend to bring back Canadians stuck in Morocco.

However, there are no guarantees all stranded Canadians will get help.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Barbara Harvey told CBC News on Friday the government is aware that thousands of Canadians abroad are experiencing difficulties returning home. But she said the government isn’t planning a mass repatriation of citizens via chartered aircraft. She also suggested that a number of people may be stuck abroad for a while. 

“The situation remains difficult but we are committed to help Canadians returning home,” said Harvey in an email. “We also must recognize that some Canadians may not be able to return home for an indeterminate period of time.”

Stranded in Honduras

Canadians abroad still hoping for help include Jacqueline de Leeuw of Spruce Grove, Alta., who is stranded with her 82-year-old parents on the island of Roatán in Honduras.

The three travellers were set to fly home on Sunday, but are now stuck because Honduras has also shut its borders. 

De Leeuw, 53, has contacted the Canadian government about their situation. She said her biggest concern is the health of her parents, whose medical insurance expires on April 1. 

Hans and Corinne Rosch and daughter, Jacqueline De Leeuw, are stranded in Honduras, after the country closed its borders. (Submitted by Jacqueline De Leeuw)

“It’s very unsettling,” said de Leeuw, who hopes for some direction from the federal government. 

“Give us some information,” she said. “Is there a schedule? Is there a planned anything? Maybe you could reach out and say, ‘You know, we understand you’re there, and we’ll let you know as soon as we know.'”

Stranded at sea

Chris Joiner has also let the government know about his whereabouts — at sea, off the coast of Chili. He and his wife were in the middle of a South American cruise with Holland America Line when on, March 13, the company decided to suspend cruise operations for 30 days during the COVID-19 crisis. 

However, the cruise line has yet to find a country willing to allow the ship to dock, even though the company has said there are no known cases of COVID-19 among the 1,384 people on board. 

MS Zaandam is still looking for a place to dock after Holland America Line suspended cruise operations on March 13 for 30 days. (Holland America Line)

Joiner, 59, said there are 245 Canadians stuck on the ship and that many of them are elderly. 

“I’m concerned for the state of people on board here, you know, to be able to cope with the next — maybe as long as two or three weeks.”

Joiner said he’d like help getting home, but also understands that the government is busy, fighting the COVID-19 war on many fronts.

In the meantime, he said he’s trying to remain positive and think of his mystery cruise as an adventure. 

“The weather’s nice, so that helps,” said Joiner, who lives in Orléans, Ont. “But after a while, people are gonna start thinking, ‘Is this ever going to end? Are we going to see our families again?'”

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