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Stranded in South America as COVID-19 spreads, Canadian travellers anxiously await rescue

Despite government efforts to bring them home, some Canadian travellers stranded by the COVID-19 pandemic say they are not optimistic about returning home soon.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne tweeted that the Canadian government had “secured authorizations for @AirCanada to operate 3 flights this week” from Peru. 

The South American country has closed its borders, forcing residents into quarantine to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

But Chelsea Widdicombe, who has been stranded with a friend in Cusco, Peru for two weeks, expressed doubts that the upcoming flights could accommodate the thousands of Canadians in that country trying to get home.

“I can definitely say I am losing hope on this issue,” Widdicombe said.

“I truly feel that if we do not get a flight this week, we are here for the long haul.”

Widdicombe says she and her friend, Clifford Scott Robinson — both Ontario residents — have been spending their time watching movies, reading and knitting.

“But most of all, we are on our phones, constantly trying to watch for any update from the government,” Widdicombe said.

In another Peruvian city, Arequipa, Nova Scotian Ian Melanson and two fellow backpackers are also seeking details of repatriation flights.

“We have heard of people in Arequipa that have gotten phone calls about buses to transport to Lima, but none of us have gotten any word at all,” Melanson said, adding that the three men were pursuing more information from Global Affairs “to sort things out.”

From Nova Scotia, Melanson’s mother, Anne, said the announcement of three flights from Peru “is absolutely what we hoped for,” noting there is still stress about logistics and whether every Canadian who wants and needs to leave Peru will get to do so.

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