COVID-19 forces Canadian travelers home

Del and Carol Pedrick, David Westwood, Cassandra Gregory and Jon Bennett were all abroad when Justin Trudeau told Canadians to remain home. Their travel experience was like none other. Photo submitted by David Westwood

Travelling the world is the go-to for people wanting to remove themselves from the stress of everyday life. But, the global pandemic of COVID-19 added extra stress for multiple Canadians who were abroad.

Del Pedrick and his wife Carol had been in north central Romania for the past four hockey seasons working with youth, university and professional players. Del says that even before Christmas, there was uncertainty brewing.

“In our area, even before Christmas,” said Pedrick, “there seemed to be high amounts of fever and lots of pneumonia … I coach with guys who had kids who were having high fevers and different things they couldn’t figure it out. It was kind of an unsettled year, health wise, right across the board – youth, university, right up to the pro guys – seeing different things.

“Post Christmas, similar to other places in the world, very quiet right up until the end of February, start of March. Obviously, more and more reports come in from around the world … So that lead to a little bit of concern.”

The Pedrick’s planned a trip to visit their daughter in central Michigan, where they returned to North America on March 13th. They received a call late one night just prior to their departure, notifying them of Trump’s travel ban.

“We received a call from our daughter in the middle of the night because of Trump’s travel ban. We were flying into the US, she was concerned, we were concerned as well. We couldn’t find information on the ban, when it came into effect. The flight was scheduled to arrive on the Friday at 7:30 and the ban was midnight. We weren’t sure if it was Thursday midnight or Friday midnight.

“We took off, threw things in a bag – grabbed enough stuff – for what we thought was going to be an eight-day journey here. Headed to Bucharest right away on the Thursday in case we had to bump our flight up. Once we found out we were underneath the ban, we went with original flight plans and landed about four hours prior to [it].”

The lineups for the Air Canada kiosks at Heathrow Airport in London. Photo submitted by David Westwood

David Westwood is from Red Deer, A.B. He was headed to the United Kingdom to visit his girlfriend Cassandra Gregory who had been working and traveling there since Dec. 2019.

“I booked with American Airlines,” said Westwood, “I had connections through the US. Trump announced on the 11th, there were going to be no more people accepted from the EU. Not included in that was Ireland and Britain. I thought, ‘okay, everything is fine.’

When I left on the 13th, there was another announcement right when I was supposed to be going through customs [in the Calgary airport]. [They] have this big glass door that’s never closed. They stopped all of us and said, ‘wait here,’ and shut the door. They had some meeting. We were there for about 25-30 minutes. Then they let us through.”

For Jon Bennett of Fort Saskatchewan, A.B., he was going to stay put. Bennett was in Nairobi, Kenya for an internship at the Aga Khan Graduate School of Media and Communications helping them with project management research work.

“Initially,” said Bennett, “our university emailed us the week before Trudeau started telling everyone to come back, telling us to evaluate our current situation and decide if we thought it was in our best interest to stay or to leave. I decided at that point that I was going to stay, along with most of the other interns that were there.”

Gregory had zero intention of returning home when Justin Trudeau told Canadians to return to Canada. Persuasion from her mother and Westwood changed her mind.

“After talking to Dave and my mom, they kind of both talked me into [it],” said Gregory. “I didn’t want to be stranded … So yeah, it did change. But it was more speaking to people back in Canada.”

Bennett echoed Gregory’s thoughts.

“The Canadian government [said] to come home while commercial options were still available,” said Bennett. “It was pretty much at that point, that I decided that it’s probably time to go back when we still can.”

Westwood recalled the security measures from Heathrow airport in London. He and Gregory said that the UK had not been taking the pandemic very serious when they had left.

“Security was more or less the same,” said Westwood. “The weirdest thing that happened was, a security guard was telling us to move up the line. There was a lady who was clearly very uncomfortable being close to people. Gloves, long sleeves, face mask, everything. The security guard was yelling at people to get closer to her. Not only not following social distancing but mocking it. When I said to her, ‘I guess no social distancing,’ she said, ‘you’re going to be in a plane so get used to it.’

The Pedrick’s are optimistic about returning to Romania when the world opens back up.

“It effected our livelihood,” said Pedrick. “The future is up in the air for everybody and we’re no exception. We are, right now, trying to navigate a future landscape … you have to let the health organizations, the experts in the area, deal with situation. What we can do, is simply monitor. The hope is to have options as everybody wants.”

For more about the effects of COVID-19 internationally, read more here.

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