A Manitoban stuck in Peru due to the COVID-19 outbreak says she feels "powerless" and is waiting on federal government assistance she says has so far been slow to come.
Lorraine Grenier, from St. Leon, near Treherne, said she and her husband, Allen, have been in Peru since March 5. They were originally scheduled to return on March 16, but COVID-19-related flight cancellations and border closures mean they have been trapped in the South American country.
Part of the issue, Lorraine said, has been a lack of information coming from the federal government’s official channels in Peru. After a hike in Cusco, Peru, on March 15 the couple received word from hotel workers that the border would be closed, but nothing from the Canadian Embassy.
She said the country’s border closed on March 16 at 11:59 p.m., but the Registry of Canadians Abroad didn’t tell travellers in the country to leave until almost 4 p.m. on that day. By that time, Lorraine and her husband’s flight the next day had been cancelled.
The same day, she said the couple sent an email to the embassy asking for help, but only received general information and tips on how to stay healthy. The two have been stuck in their hotel in Peru’s capital, Lima, since.
"It’s a moving target in terms of information and very tight-lipped, we don’t feel we have a reliable avenue to get information on which to make decisions," Lorraine said.
"Before leaving we checked travel advisories and saw no restrictions on our destinations, there were zero cases, so even if we fast-forward right now and have the luxury of hindsight there was zero cases in Peru. South America was not on a watch, only European countries.
"We made sure we were diligent, we really tried to do our due diligence, but by the time the government told us to leave there were already closed borders, and I know that would be out of their control, but the delay since a week is what’s most concerning."
The couple is now doing all their cooking in the hotel room and doing their best to get by, using a panini maker and eating vitamins. She said they walk to the Canadian embassy two or three times a day trying to get information, but often have to explain to Peruvian police officers their predicament as the country is largely quarantined.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Monday morning that three flights would be leaving Peru this week to fly Canadians back home. Lorraine said that is a positive step, but there are more than 2,600 Canadians in the country who want to get back, and they won’t all be able to make it on the planes.
"I understand this is complicated and without precedent, and that our nation has a lot of things to consider, but I guess I’ve never felt feeling so unsupported, disconnected … to give me an email on the day of to tell me to live and then say I chose to come here, that’s not really productive information," she said.
Lorraine said her husband farms at home and now the delay in getting back has thrown that operation into jeopardy.
Global Affairs Canada did not respond to a request for more information on the Canadians stuck in Peru by press time on Monday.
The Sun requested to speak to Portage-Lisgar Conservative MP Candice Bergen, who is Lorraine and Allen’s MP, about the issue, but was directed to Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman Conservative MP James Bezan. He said the federal government doing its best to get the approximately 500,000 Canadians abroad back to Canada.
"Try to understand the incredible volumes that the government is dealing with, this is unprecedented. … It’s a challenge both logistically and emotionally that Canada has never had to deal with, or anyone else in the world for that matter," she said.
If commercial airlines can’t get people back, he said the federal government should use Canadian Forces airplanes to repatriate citizens.
Premier Brian Pallister said in a Monday afternoon press conference the provincial government is leaving it up the federal government to coordinate repatriation efforts.
Canadians abroad should go to travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration to sign up for future travel notifications.
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