/Travellers relieved to be back in Canada
An image of a quiet coastal town in Crete Greece where Minden Hills residents Carolyn Langdon and husband Marty Scheller spent several anxious days before taking a flight home this past weekend. Like most travellers around the world travel has been disrupted by the recent events related to the coronavirus pandemic. Submitted by Carolyn Langdon

Travellers relieved to be back in Canada

By Darren Lum

County residents Carolyn Langdon and Marty Scheller were relieved to be back in Canada as they arrived at Pearson International Airport on Sunday March 22 part of the wave of more than a million Canadians and permanent residents returning last week.

“We could let out a big sigh of relief and just relax” Langdon said.

Their Air Canada flight landed on the tarmac with a nearly empty cabin with about 65 passengers from Canada and the U.S. spaced out in the nine seats per row she said.

“It was the best flight we’ve ever had because we had so much elbow room” she said.

The retired couple spent two days travelling from the island of Crete Greece to get to their Minden Hills home after a trip that started in Indonesia in January. The journey home took two days including driving their rental car to the Crete airport for an hour flight to Athens and then a commuter flight to Munich Germany and finally home to Toronto.

The return trip almost didn’t happen.

When they learned Turkish Airlines grounded all flights two days before their scheduled flight home they were left scrambling for another option. Langdon phoned the airline’s head office in Istanbul.

“I could get no information out of them. The only thing they could say was it was an operational decision … so that was it. After all that finagling we changed our flight twice and an untold amount of hours online and on the phone and after all that two days before we were just so close to getting out boom gone. And they couldn’t offer any alternative” she said.

The couple had registered with the Government of Canada’s Registration of Canadians Abroad service but received their first message on March 23 when they arrived home.

The message referenced mobility restrictions in Greece and various details about emergency contacts. Langdon wished more information came from the government long before they learned through others what was happening.

The couple wasn’t entirely sure what was happening to the rest of Greece while they were in the rural areas. They were unable to read news reports or decipher the Greek being spoken in newscasts.

It was becoming apparent people were feeling the anxiety with rising cases of coronavirus globally. By March 15 they were told by a hotelier that the country was going to force the majority of hotels to close by March 22.

Langdon is happy things worked out and they’re home but she was disappointed there wasn’t a refund for flight changes with Sky Express airlines to get to Athens and that Turkish Airlines was not able to offer a refund over the phone (one could be given in person at the Toronto office) due to a technical issue. From all the rebooking and plan changes they believe they will likely be out of pocket by $1500 if there isn’t a refund.

For the past 11 years the couple has travelled the world going on extended trips of a few months.

Nothing like this has ever happened to them before.

Langdon wasn’t sure about travel next year but hopes there will be a vaccine developed and research to learn about the origins of the outbreak with greater government investment in health care.

“The world has changed. It really has” she said. “We have to be hopeful and life goes on but this really is life-changing and unprecedented and countries have to pay more attention to their health-care system and more resources have to be freed up for health-care systems. We don’t know what will happen this time next year.”

The couple is now in self-isolation and will be assisted by Langdon’s brother Ray who already helped his 83-year-old mother Marian when she returned from Portugal before airport closures and flight cancellations.

If you come back from travelling the message from public health officials and political leaders is clear: self-isolate.

Highlands resident Ashlee Casey who went to Florida to visit a friend is doing her civic duty. She returned early last week and is at her home in isolation for two weeks. Before coming home she sent her young adult daughter to live with her grandparents.

“Just because I was happy to stay isolated in the sun does not mean I am being reckless. The choice was made for me to come home and isolate here so please don’t think I don’t take this seriously” she wrote.

Casey is thankful for the help she has received during these circumstances that will keep her and her husband home spring cleaning.

“Thank God we have family members close by that she [my daughter] left to stay with before we got home. I read social media throughout the day and there are lots of concerns and condemnation of travellers being out and about but we are truly following rules and are blessed to have family dropping needs off at our front door” she wrote.

Registered nurse and Highlands resident Christina Allore who is currently employed but not working in the hospital for Haliburton Highlands Health Services due to a back injury warns people to take the threat of the coronavirus seriously.

A registered nurse since 2003 Allore worked during the SARS outbreak but said the incidences were not as high. She continues to receive up-to-date information from the hospital and said this situation is much more frightening.

“Because of SARS though we all have the FRI (Febrile Respiratory Illness) assessment to follow and I feel that because of that assessment tool that is used upon first contact with a patient in our hospitals our health care is in a much better position to manage this in that regard. People are screened for fever and cough and if they fail they are to be isolated” she wrote.

She is upset about people ignoring the social distancing recommendations which is part of the effort to give more time to scientists to research the virus and develop a vaccine.

There are personal concerns for her family with her middle daughter who has asthma Celiac disease and has a history of pneumonia. Allore has been having open discussions with her family to ensure the health of her daughter and is working to maintain her composure in these stressful times.

“Maybe I am going to look like an idiot two weeks from now and people can say that I overreacted … I am so OK with that! I would love to be wrong; not usually but this once I would happily admit it!” she wrote.

Former MP Barry Devolin who runs a travel guide company returned home after being away for a week leading a group exploring Kruger National Park in South Africa starting March 14 and returning this past Sunday. He is currently in quarantine at a friend’s cottage in the Highlands.

Before the weekend there weren’t any cases in Ethiopia and few in South Africa and the group felt safe where they were. Devolin said he felt anxiety heading out of South Africa to Ethiopia and home to Toronto with Ethiopia Airlines. Early flights weren’t available.

“Coming home on the weekend we felt it was like running the gauntlet to get back to Canada. I was much more nervous on Saturday morning heading to the airport in Johannesburg and flying home through Addis Ababa. Planes were jammed full. Every seat was full. And then back to Toronto and through that airport and out. It all kind of worked out OK but we kept waiting. The airlines might cancel the flights. They might close the airports. It was unclear what might happen next” he said.

He said there isn’t a direct flight from South Africa to Toronto so the Ethiopia leg was the most ideal to avoid going through hot zones for coronavirus such as Chicago or New York.

Most of the people he took the flight with were Canadians. There was a nervous feeling among the crowded plane he said.

There have been trips in his life where there have been challenges but he’s never come home where he thought the same feeling would be waiting for him.

“You never really think home has changed. Home will be the same. In this case not only were they anxious about the trip. Not only were we anxious about going through airports and getting on planes with a bunch of other people but we were also nervous about what we would find when we got here” he said.

Devolin was the Member of Parliament for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock from 2004 to 2015 and has insight into how governments operate.

Some people might think when a state of emergency is declared it indicates the “severity of a situation” but mostly it enables a government to have access to tools for action and to money.

While coming through Pearson International Airport he was surprised there wasn’t more screening like he received upon landing in South Africa where public health officials came aboard the plane and conducted checks followed by further screening in the airport which included thermal testing. He said he believes South Africa does this because health care is not as robust as Canada’s.

“All I can tell you is that in my experience there the one flight I came on everyone I talked to were shocked there was very little screening going on compared to what [they] had seen both in Ethiopia and in South Africa” he said.

He appreciates the effect this pandemic has on mobilizing people around the world to resolving the crisis. Under these circumstances he believes the usual timelines of a vaccine being developed and approved in a year-and-a-half will be expedited.

He said South Korea has shown how quickly things can go. A simplified test for the coronavirus was developed within a week.

He’s familiar with life in South Korea from living and working there for two years following his political career. Devolin said countries like Taiwan and South Korea know how to handle outbreaks.

In particular South Korea’s preparedness comes from dealing with MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) back in 2015.

“They’re not smarter than us. They have just dealt with it once already and put a system in place. I think Canada will be better prepared the next time this happens … it would appear in the United States where the health-care system is much more fragmented than it is even in Canada is not well suited to this type of a crisis” he said.

He said during a crisis you want a robust health-care system to operate like an army where there is centralized command and clear lines of authority.

He is optimistic things will return to a “new normal” within several months due to whatever scientific breakthrough is made.

“The fear obviously is what’s the cost between now and then both economically as well as in terms of lives” he said.