Premier Doug Ford says arrangements have been made to bring home a group of King City high school students who are stuck in Peru after the country closed its borders last weekend, but the fate of several other Canadians trapped in the South American country remains unknown.
Speaking at Queen’s Park on Thursday, Ford said plans are in the works for Air Canada to repatriate the stranded Country Day School students, who are in grades 10, 11, and 12.
“I don’t care if we go bus, boat, airplane, whatever it takes to get those kids back,” Ford said. “These kids are coming home.”
Patricia Sun, the mother of one of the school's 19 students who are stuck in Peru's captial city Lima, told CP24 Wednesday that the group was one week into their trip when the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11.
A nationwide state of emergency was ordered by the president of Peru, prompting the country, which currently has 145 COVID-19 cases, to close its international borders on Sunday.
"We want our kids home before the situation gets worse," Sun told CP24 Wednesday.
The students, she said, are currently self-isolating at a hotel and are under the supervision of two teachers.
"Their spirits are up. They are being kept safe," Sun said, adding that she has been communicating with her daughter through FaceTime.
Earlier this week, Canada announced it would be closing its borders to international visitors and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged Canadians outside the country to come home immediately.
Ford told reporters Thursday that his team has been in “constant communication” with parents and the headmaster of the school since learning of the situation on Wednesday night.
“These kids are coming home and we are arranging a flight,” Ford said. “Thank you Air Canada for coordinating this. Thank you federal government for helping us out, getting the permits to land,” the premier added.
Ford did not provide a specific timeline for when the students will return to Canada.
CP24 has been contacted by several other Canadians with family members who are also in Peru and are struggling to find flights home.
One of them is Dr. Kiran Ramesh, a Scarborough optometrist, who flew to Peru with her family on March 15. She said they were returning from a hike in the Amazon when they found out that the Peruvian government had shut down the borders.
She said their tour agent got them a chartered plane to Lima, where they are currently waiting for help.
"We are doing really well," Ramesh said.
Ramesh said it took three days before the Canadian Embassy in Peru contacted them. She said Americans and other nationalities had already been contacted by their embassies before they received an email from Canada Wednesday night.
"For the first time in my life, I actually wish I was an American," Ramesh said.
Nikita Singh and her boyfriend Marco Tenaglia are also waiting for a flight back home. She said it was their dream to visit Peru's Machu Picchu.
Singh said they are well, but she is concerned if they have to stay for more than two weeks.
"It's confusing, frustrating, and a little discouraging, because we have to wait and waiting, is the hardest part," said Singh.
For Dave De Smith, he thought his fifth time to Peru would be like any other “normal” trip. However, the director of Student Ministries at Alliance Church, along with 16 minors, are stranded at a compound in Trujillo, a city eight hours north of Lima, after the Peruvian government shut down its border.
“This is an unprecedented global event,” De Smith said. “We are all processing as best as we can.”
He said the trip is part of a church program, which brings humanitarian aid and children’s programs to impoverished communities.
De Smith said he has been in constant contact with the emergency response centre in Ottawa and has also been talking to a travel agency to coordinate their trip back home.
“All of these organizations are sort of just waiting on the government making next step decisions on how we’re going to transport the hundreds of Canadians that are stuck down here in Peru,” he said.
Everyone is in good health, De Smith said, and no one in the group is showing symptoms.
“We have water. We have food to last us for the foreseeable future. But of course, we have many anxious parents back home in Canada that are waiting to have their children back in their arms."
De Smith said Canadians have been initiating the effort to get everyone stranded in Peru back home. Many have been reaching out on social media to raise awareness of their situation.
“It’s kinda been a surreal experience for all of us so far.”
It is not clear if arrangements are being made to allow those stranded citizens to board the Air Canada flight that Ford said is being sent to retrieve the King City students.
During Thursday’s news conference, Ford said that “decisive action” is needed to bring home Canadians who are stranded abroad.
“We can’t wait on delays for bureaucracy or politicians or anyone to react,” he said. “We can’t wait two days, three days. We are acting immediately.”
Ford's office refused to comment on the cases of other travellers in Peru, suggesting that it is strictly a “federal matter.”
Global Affairs Canada has not responded to CP24's request for additional information.