While thousands of Canadians stuck overseas look for ways home and await government rescue flights, others have decided to hunker down and wait out the pandemic that has paralyzed the world.
Many set aside pleas from family and friends to get home, opting instead to shelter in place and avoid potential travel contagion. Some say their adopted homes seem better prepared than Canada.
Mandy Sinclair moved to Morocco nine years ago from Ottawa. She considered buying a ticket on one of Canada’s repatriation flights on March 21. The idea of airline travel and returning to an uncertain life in Ottawa influenced her decision to remain. She owns a food and cultural tour business called Tasting Marrakech. She was handling customer postponements, and will now start planning what to do after the pandemic.
“I have comfort and familiarity here, an apartment, and people around me I can count on,” Ms. Sinclair said from her home in Marrakesh. “I’m keen to do my part to limit the spread, and staying here seems like the best way.”
Morocco, which was locked down a week ago, had 333 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths on Friday compared to 4,610 cases and 53 deaths in Canada. “I think Morocco is putting in great measures quickly to hopefully limit the spread,” she said.
When international air travel began to shut down on March 17, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was unrealistic to expect all three million Canadians overseas would make it home during the pandemic. Thousands of travelers stuck from the Philippines to India and Peru are waiting impatiently for Canada to arrange flights home.
Some 411,434 Canadians are registered overseas, but registration is voluntary and doesn’t give a complete picture. Global Affairs does not have a breakdown of those who want to return and those who have decided to stay overseas.
Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister, urged Canadians who don’t want to come home to “use their best judgement” while abroad.
“It’s very important to get the message out that many people will be having to stay in places where they are, even if they want to come home,” Mr. Oliphant said.
Some have embraced the message instead of fighting it.
Karla Laing moved to Mougins, France, last year for an immersive French experience with her two daughters, Addison, 13 and Élise, 11. They had already planned to move back to Calgary after the school year ends in June. Her husband, Ron, works in the energy industry there. Ms. Laing decided to stick it out at their temporary home, near Cannes, where they went into lockdown on March 17. The strict national isolation has been extended to May 10.
Ms. Laing’s biggest worry is that her husband or parents might fall ill while she is away, or that she might get sick while parenting alone. Friends and family wanted her to return, but she decided it was better to let the girls finish school, which has moved seamlessly online. She also thinks Canada is just behind France on the infection curve. France had 32,964 cases and 1,995 deaths on Friday.
“We would have rushed home just to go into lockdown again, with no school,” she said. “People ask why we don’t come home, and the answer is that they have a plan here.”
Ms. Laing said she and her girls find the isolation tedious – all three are avid tennis players. “We could try to set up a net on the cobblestone driveway,” she said. “We could work our reflexes.” The girls also try to stay amused with their cats, Tonks and Noemi.
French quarantine rules allow them to walk one kilometre in either direction along their residential road, but there’s little to see but houses. The more interesting medieval village centre is just outside the allowed range.
The kids can’t otherwise leave the house, even when Ms. Laing buys groceries or runs other errands. “You can imagine what it’s like for them. It’s the worst,” she said. “You can’t just kick them out of the house. There’s nowhere for them to go.”
Devin Smith, a 34-year-old corporate event IT contractor, was on a break from work and travelling in Argentina when the shutdowns began. His work dried up immediately.
Family and friends urged him to come home.
Mr. Smith, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen who is from Calgary but based in Las Vegas, decided he was better off staying in Argentina with his Canadian travel companion, who is from Toronto. They have made a deal with the owner of their Airbnb rental in the city of Mendoza to stay for several more weeks at a discount.
Argentina, which had 589 cases and 13 deaths on Friday, is in lockdown with a complete travel ban. “We see infections going through the roof back home and we don’t see any point in trying to get back there and put ourselves at risk,” Mr. Smith said. “We follow the news very closely, and our biggest worry is we won’t have any home to come back to.”
With a report from Michelle Carbert
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