Canadian couple stranded abroad due to COVID-19 finally make it home
Bill Goss and Tessa McGregor never foresaw their vacation to Argentina taking this drastic of a turn when they were boarding their Antarctic cruise expedition five weeks earlier.
On March 25, they were notified that their Air Canada flight – and third attempt to get home – was cancelled and they would need to check out of their hotel by noon.
They had already faced two other flight cancellations in an effort to get back to their home in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
Latin states across Argentina were starting to go into lockdown in response to COVID-19 — and Buenos Aeries, the city where they were staying, was on the verge as well.
The couple had been noticing changes for the past couple days.
"We were allowed to go next door for dinner but told that we would now be confined to the hotel and were only permitted to go outside to either a small convenience store or a pharmacy," Goss said.
The grocery stores were only allowing one person per group inside and no more than five people at any one time.
"Businesses and people were active but guarded and all public buildings were closed," said Goss. "At one point on a walk we were stopped by a policeman who checked our passport for our date of arrival into Argentina."
Their original hotel also closed and they were booked into another nearby — the hotel that they were now being kicked out of.
HELP PLEASE Canadian government - friends please amplify - bring home Canadians in Argentina. Repatriation is needed. Latin states are on lock down. My parents’ 2 flight attempts to return have been cancelled. #covid_19 #repatriation #bringcanadianshome @justinpjtrudeau @cdcgov @gov.canada @canadian.government @cbcnews @cbc @cbctoronto @thetorontostar @nationalpost @globeandmail @globalnewsto @fp_champagne @cattunney @blogto
The couple knew of a few other travellers on the floor who were also on their flight, and a man they had met went to the front desk to see if there were others.
"We were going to each of the rooms where we knew these people were staying and were trying to arrange a meeting downstairs, in the lobby," said Goss.
"There was a family and the husband was Argentinian, so it helped that he could speak Spanish," said McGregor. "He spoke with [the front desk] to see if we could do the meeting downstairs."
The hotel staff didn't allow the meeting in the lobby due to social distancing rules. Alternatively, a group of them met in the hotel hallway a couple different times to share information, standing at each of their doors for distance.
"Our panic was greatly soothed by all of these people coming together," said McGregor. "It was also really heartening that the Canadian Embassy in Argentina sent us an email saying that they were in contact with Air Canada."
CBC is interviewing Cndians stranded in Argentina this morning. Help bring families home #CanadaCovid19 @Ben_Nelms @DMajJourno @anitabathe @FP_Champagne @JustinTrudeau @canadianPM @CanadaArgentina @cathmckenna @CBCNews @CBCToronto— Kelsea Chatburn (@kelseachats) March 25, 2020
It wasn’t long before a staff at the hotel came to tell them to gather their bags because a bus would be picking them up in forty minutes.
They were going home — but tensions remained high as they waited for everyone to board the bus.
"Things weren’t supposed to shut down until Friday, but this was already Wednesday," said McGregor. "The Argentinian man kept saying that things could change in a second, even as we were waiting for people to get on the bus."
My parents are stranded in Argentina. Flights are cancelled and state is in lockdown. Help them come home @blogTO @CanadaArgentina @JustinTrudeau @cathmckenna @CBCToronto @CBCNews pic.twitter.com/TveIfzor30— Kelsea Chatburn (@kelseachats) March 25, 2020
"The drive there was about an hour and we passed multiple police checkpoints and toll booths on the way," said Goss. "We were just hoping that we wouldn’t be stopped."
A couple hours later, a relieved Goss and McGregor boarded the Latam flight to Santiago, Chile, bringing them one step closer to the Canadian border.
"In Santiago, the airport was just chaos," said Goss. "There were people that I think had been funnelled to that airport from a variety of different places trying to catch the airplane that we got on, plus probably other airplanes."
They recall police officers set up all over the airport, as well as testing peoples' temperatures before allowing them to enter.
"People were wearing masks and gloves to try and do something about the distancing, but it was just impossible. We were just crowded like cattle," Goss said.
Finally, they would touchdown in Canada.
Now that Goss and McGregor are safely back in B.C., they can't help but think of their experience as a prime example of Canadians coming together.
"I was just really moved and touched, and very proud of us as Canadians in that last hotel," said McGregor. "We really rallied, put our heads together and we were just not going to take 'no' for an answer."
They're also grateful for their family and friends back home who offered their support.
"Our daughter and son-in-law were checking what hotels might be open in Argentina for us," said Goss.
"She made sure that we had contact information for Air Canada and the Canadian government, she was keeping us up to date with news that we were not getting in Argentina, and was also in contact with our travel agent and other members of our family."
Their daughter, Kelsea Chatburn, also helped draw attention to her parents' experience on social media in a further effort to get them back to Canada.
The kindness continues even now that they're home, with their friends dropping off groceries to their doorstep to get them through their 14-day quarantine and numerous calls from their loved ones to check in.
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