Jordan: Back to work. Claire, are you there?
Claire: I’m always here. Jordan, where am I going to go?
Jordan: Fair enough. Well, it’s the first day of the work week. Was your weekend any different from your week?
Claire: Um, aside from not making this podcast? Not really. I mean, I’ve just been kind of cooking and taking long walks. No complaints.
Jordan: Can you even tell days apart right now?
Claire: No. I usually ask about three times a day: What day is it today?
Jordan: I keep thinking that I’m supposed to take my garbage out because everyday feels like garbage day now, for whatever that’s worth. But here’s a question. Have you felt lucky over the past little while?
Claire: I don’t know about lucky. I’ve definitely felt very fortunate. I’ve been trying to look on the bright side of things. I mean, I’m very fortunate to have been able to work from home as soon as needed, and my partner and I keep each other company. Why, have you felt lucky?
Jordan: I really have, for whatever it’s worth. You know, when we do research for the shell, I tend to dig into the worst stuff. The reports out of Italy, uh, reports from frontline hospital workers in Canada and in the United States, and it really drives home the point. And this weekend, we were reading and listening to stories of Canadians who found themselves abroad when Justin Trudeau said, Hey, this is serious. It’s time to get home.
Claire: Yeah, that’s easier said than done.
Jordan: Yeah. And I traveled in February and I think about it now, you know, if it had been a couple of weeks later– at the time, everybody said it was fine to go– a couple of weeks later, I would’ve been in that same situation.
Claire: Yeah. And some people right now are stuck where they are.
Jordan: And today, we’re going to talk to somebody who just made it home. Under the gun, barely. And, uh, we’ll hear from somebody at the end of today’s episode who is not as lucky, and she’ll quickly tell you where she is, her situation’s very fluid. So we wanted to get her information out there, at the very least. But quickly for people who still do know what day it is, can you tell us where we are, Claire, as the quote unquote work week, what ever that means now, begins?
Claire: Well, the latest from Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu is that if you’re back from a trip and you’ve been told to self isolate and you don’t do that, you could face a big penalty.
News Clip: It is critically important, especially for those returning home now, to ensure that they follow this public health advice that we’re giving them. And the advice will be not just advice. If we need to take stronger measures, we will.
Claire: And that actually happened in Quebec. A woman who tested positive for the Coronavirus was arrested for violating a quarantine order because she was out walking her dog. Prime Minister Trudeau says, between Monday and Wednesday there will be more than 30 flights bringing Canadians who are abroad back home. And we are now seeing the first case of coven 19 in the North. It’s in the Northwest territories, and they’ve now shut down their border to all non-essential travel. Some MPs are being called back on Tuesday to adopt the emergency measures that were announced last week. Those include the $27 billion fund for direct support and the $55 billion to help business liquidity through tax deferrals. As of Sunday evening, 1,436 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 21 deaths.
Jordan: When you find yourself in a situation like our guest today dead, of course, you second guess yourself a little bit. Why did I go? How did I end up here? What could I have done differently? It’s natural, but I think you have to remember– as fast as this thing seems like it’s moving now, a few weeks ago, unless you were really paying attention, it didn’t seem that it was going to get this bad. And besides, look, once you’re stuck, you’re stuck. There’s no point in questioning how you got here. You just want to get home. And to do that, you might need the help of the government and as we know, government can’t help everyone right now.
News Clip: Today I can announce that we’re working with Canadian airlines to make commercial flights available for as many Canadians who are stranded as possible. Now, we won’t be able to reach everyone, but we’re going to do our best to help those we can.
Jordan: Nothing is really guaranteed anymore. And so you take your chances like today’s guests did. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Julia Morales is a student at McGill university in Montreal, and today she is in Montreal and safe. So first of all, Julia, I’m glad to hear that.
Julia: Thank you. Glad to be back.
Jordan: You’re home now?
Jordan: Where were you last week?
Julia: So last week I was in Morocco. Originally I was, well, kind of just traveling everywhere and ended up in Tangier from where I was supposed to take a flight back to Montreal.
Jordan: Tell me how you got there. Why were you there? When did you go? That kind of stuff.
Julia: So a group of four other students and a professor and I left from McGill University on February 27th to leave for Morocco on a geological field trip. We were going to go study the geology of the area and sort of understand what processes led to the current geology of the region. And we were supposed to leave for two weeks. However, we were not able to board our flight out of Morocco because of travel bans that were then instilled by the government.
Jordan: What were you thinking, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, but what, what were you thinking as the flight approached and you knew you were going? Were you worried? Had you heard anything from the government or anywhere else advising you?
Julia: No, actually going into the trip, I think any of the stresses were kind of just related to the usual stresses of traveling. Do we have everything we need? Does everyone have a tent? Does everyone have hiking boots? But nothing related to the actual coronavirus because as we had seen on the Government of Canada website, at that point, Morocco was very safe. There were no cases, or I believe zero to two cases of Corona in the country. And Italy had yet to undergo this boom, which we now have seen over the past two weeks. So we felt quite confident in going to the country and being safe and coming back.
Jordan: Tell me about when that situation changed in Morocco. What were you hearing? What was happening there?
Julia: So every night as we would have dinner, we would actually go on the Corona worldometer website and see what the statistics were saying about the spread of the virus. And even until the last day, we were supposed to be there, there were only about, I believe, 18 total cases in the country. So we weren’t too concerned about our state in the country, but more what was going on in the neighbouring countries such as Spain, particularly. Because obviously we’re seeing that it was exploding all over Europe, and we immediately saw that the political response in all these countries with the started closing down borders. We started to get concerned about the fact that we may not be able to return, but up until then, we had not heard anything from our airline, or the government in Morocco, or the Canadian government. So we weren’t, we, again, were not too concerned about the idea of that we were not going to be able to get him to come back home.
Jordan: Tell me about making the decision to try to get home. What happened and what did you do then?
Julia: Yes, so we arrived at Tangiers airport as you were supposed to, and as we walked into the airport, we received the news that essentially Morocco was closing its borders to about 20 countries. It was going to stop international flights in and out of 20 countries, and among those were Canada. Which was quite surprising, because the USA was not on that list. And the US has many more cases of Coronavirus than we do. And at that point we immediately started looking for other flights out of the country and we managed to book another one through Qatar. And three days later we were supposed to catch that flight and we found out that Qatar was also closing its borders and would not allow us to fly through there. So this all began a whole spiral of trying to find any flights out.
Jordan: What did you do?
Julia: What did we do well? We kept trying to find more flights. We booked another flight out of Casablanca. That one was really quickly canceled. Expedia actually called us about like a few hours after having booked and told us that the flight would not be going out. We booked another flight with Air Canada, which then got canceled. We booked another flight through Royal Amarok and that also got canceled. We were pretty much just desperate to find anything that would get us out of the country. So our original flight was supposed to go through Casablanca before, then heading to Montreal. So we decided to take our flight to Casablanca, since it’s like a major flight hub in the country and we figured that our chances of getting a flight out would increase if we were in that city. And so we just kept trying. Once we arrived in Casablanca airport. We tried to make sure if our flight would actually be going out. And the people at the counter told us that they couldn’t even find our flight on their registry. And then people were just starting to form mobs and crowds and started chanting and pushing each other. So we kind of figured it was safest to leave the airport, because many people in our group stated that they did not feel safe, on top of the fact that the airports tend to be hubs for the coronavirus. It just did not feel great in general to be there. So we decided to just keep our search ongoing online at a hotel.
Jordan: Tell me about the help you got, either from the Canadian government or the public. I mean, we found you through a Twitter account you’ve made.
Julia: Yeah. So once we got to the hotel, we pretty much, again, started looking for flights and we decided that it was kind of ridiculous that we were probably hundreds of people, of all nationalities, but especially Canadians who were just getting stuck in Morocco with no way out, because every time we tried to book a commercial flight, it got canceled or it just did not fly out. So we decided to make a Twitter account, and then we started a Facebook page and then Instagram page just to try to get the word out, to try to get the Canadian government to start doing something. And this kind of came from the fact that we heard that the German, the Belgium, and the French governments were already planning repatriation flights to Morocco, and it was very upsetting to hear that Canada was not willing to do the same for its own people. So in terms of the Canadian government help, I would say there was none. In terms of help from McGill University, the chair of our department, Professor Jeff McKenzie, was with us throughout the entire thing. He offered us immediately financial support on behalf of the university, and I think we are forever grateful to him because at some point there’s only so much that credit cards can do once your flights keeps getting canceled and you don’t know what your refund policy will look like.
Jordan: So how did you get home in the end?
Julia: Yeah, so on Wednesday, we at this point had moved into an Airbnb, because it was just a lot more comfortable than being in this hotel, which had an ant infestation. And we got a message from someone telling us that they had just booked a flight with Ryanair from Marrakech to London, and they told us that there were still seats on this flight. I immediately checked the link and the flight appeared to be sold out. And a few hours later of one of the other people in my group checked that link and seats appear to be available. But at this point we only had a couple of hours to sort of make this flight. So in the space of five minutes, we booked the flights, we packed up, we convinced taxis to drive us three hours from Casablanca, to Marrakech. We just kept telling them to drive faster on the highway. And finally we got to Marrakech where supposedly the flight had then been canceled, though we decided to proceed to the airport anyway. At the airport. There were long lines just to get in. The flight went out, I think, over two hours late. And this is just due to the influx of people who are buying their tickets last minute, just trying to get back. And we are forever grateful to the UK embassy for having organized these Ryanair flights out of Marrakech and to London. Because without them, we could not have gotten out of the country. And once in London, we then had McGill book us flights from London to Montreal.
Jordan: I understand not everybody on your trip is now safe in Canada. What happened?
Julia: Yes. So two of our students are not from Canada. The one of them is from China, and the other is from the United States. We had been keeping tabs on Trudeau’s press conference and then the media that had covered that to sort of keep tabs on what was going to happen to our international students. When we saw that exceptions would be made for international students coming back into Canada, we felt quite safe in everyone just making that flight to Montreal. However, once we went to board at the gate, we were informed that they were not sure if our two international students would be able to get onto the plane because they would not be accepted in Canada. Then a person from the Canadian embassy who was at the gate, he came up to us and told us that these international students would not be allowed onto this plane, and that there was nothing he could do about it. So we had to take it up with the high commission of Canada. Basically for the US citizen, it didn’t matter that he was US citizen because he hadn’t been on US soil within 14 consecutive days prior to travel. As for the Chinese citizen, although exceptions are supposed to be made for close relatives of Canadians living in Canada, he did not qualify because apparently his uncle is not close enough of a relationship. They really wanted one of his parents to be a Canadian. And unfortunately, they would not allow these students in.
Jordan: So where are they now?
Julia: So now they were essentially forced to go back to their respective countries. So the American is back in his hometown and our Chinese students is back in his home town too. So at least they’re safe. They’re close to their families. But it would have been nice to have them come back to Montreal. Especially because school is ongoing and just being in closer proximity to the university tends to be a little bit comforting.
Jordan: Well, I’m glad you at least made it home. How are you feeling right now? I guess you’re in isolation?
Julia: Yes. I’m an isolation as it’s pretty much everyone in Montreal. I feel good. I feel tired mostly. I think we had a lot of, of stress these past few days and not a lot of running around, a lot of moving, a lot of stress in general. But otherwise I’m fine. I would really like to get tested for COVID, and I think everyone who comes out of multiple airports wishes they had access to tests. But I understand that there is a shortage all across the province and really all across the country.
Jordan: Well I’m glad you’re healthy and thanks for taking the time to talk to us and stay safe.
Julia: Yep. Thank you.
Jordan: Julia was able to get home, but there are still plenty of Canadians out there right now, stuck in a foreign country, while all this is happening, two of them reached out to us. Here are Mariana and Matthew.
Mariana: Hi, I’m Mariana Rodriguez. I’m one of the many Canadians stuck here in Peru.
Matthew: My name is Matthew Mattecky. I’m here with Mariana and her mom and dad.
Mariana: So we’ve been here for about a week now. We’re in a hotel right now in Lima, which is visited by the police about three times a day. We’re not able to leave our hotel at all. The food is being rationed. Grocery stores are closing.
Matthew: I am desperately trying to get home to my mother right now who is battling cancer of her own. And unfortunately, even when I get home, I can’t even go see her for another 15 days because I want to do everything I can to make sure that my mom is safe and sound.
Mariana: My mom actually requires some medication that she can’t really get down here either because pharmacies are closing. Her eye’s been reacting due to that. There’s really not much going on. The streets are pretty deserted down here. There is a curfew. From 8:00 PM to 5:00 AM every night. The streets are constantly patrolled by police and military.
Matthew: We’re kind of quarantined to our own hotel room, and as soon as we step out as foreigners, the police will stop us and they won’t ask questions, they’ll arrest us first.
Mariana: We actually had an appointment at the embassy on Wednesday, and once we actually went to the embassy, they had actually turned us away, as well as a few other Canadians that were there trying to get answers as well. And with that appointment, we’d gotten a follow up email confirming that appointment, to which they had no answers. It was blocked off by military.
Matthew: We know we’re not being neglected, but when we see news stories of interviewers saying, well, the problem is the Traveler’s coming home. No, the problem is that people were not taking it serious at home.
Mariana: We actually know what we need to do and we’re just more concerned about coming home to our loved ones and we are more than happy to self-quarantine at home in the comfort of our own homes. It’s totally different when you’re not sure when your next plate of food is going to show up.
Matthew: We’re just a little bit scared because even now in our hometown in Burlington, people are dressing up and breaking into people’s homes and it’s just generally scary that I can’t even do anything I can to go help my loved ones at home.
Mariana: Everyone just needs to stay quarantined at home, like for the safety of everyone.
Matthew: Not just because we live in Canada and we live in the Great White North and nothing can affect us and that we’re Raptors champions. No. This is true. This is real. And this is only the beginning if we don’t really start taking this seriously, we all have to do it.
Mariana: I mean at home, people are going out to the stores. People are going to buy video games. We can’t go get fresh air. We can’t even leave our hotel. Right now we’re almost anticipating that we won’t be home for months.
Matthew: We’re just tired. We’re scared, and we want to go home.
Jordan: Thanks to Mariana and Matthew for sharing their story and we hope they get home safe and soon, and thank you to Julia for sharing hers. That was The Big Story. You know, by now we’re covering coronavirus every day from our own makeshift home studios, and we’re trying to stay healthy and stay sane. To hear more you can go to thebigstorypodcast.ca. Or you can say hi to us anytime on Twitter at @thebigstoryFPN. If you want to talk to me my handle is @theGameSheet. You should also know by now that we want to hear from you. If you’re staying home, how have you been passing the time? I hope you have enough supplies. Tell us what you bought. You can send a short audio clip from your phone. You can send video too, we’ll just use the audio, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll leave you today with a clip from your favourite guest host of this show. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
Sarah: Hey, Big Story family. It’s your sometimes guest host Sarah Boesveld here. I’m a reporting from my home in East York. I’ve got a 17 month old boy here at home that I’m trying to take care of since his daycare is closed. So he’s not getting to see his friends. And I’m getting to play this same YouTube video over and over and over again that you might hear him listening to grabbing at the laptop screen, pointing, dancing. It’s really cute, but it gets a little bit tired after 15 times in a row. Anyway, my husband and I are trying to make it work. You know, I’m kind of doing my writing half of the day while he takes care of our son. And I do the parenting shift, the childcare shift after that. There’s some work in the evenings, but there’s also some wine, because we’re all just trying to get through this. Yeah, look at that. You love this video. He’s at, our sons that are really fun age where he’s super cute and hilarious, but he’s also into absolutely everything. So I’m working really hard. But we’re making the best of it. Yeah. And I hope all the rest of you are too, sending lots of love and strength and, uh, I hope you’re getting some rest as well, from social media and just in general. Naps are amazing. Take care guys. Bye.
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