Coronavirus: Winnipeg couple stranded in Ecuador amid COVID-19 pandemic plea for federal help

A Winnipeg couple stranded in an airport hotel in Ecuador are desperately awaiting help from the federal government to flee the South American nation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ecuador imposed sweeping measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, barring international flights March 14, then declaring a state of emergency March 18.

The couple, Lynda and Louis Richard, long dreamed of visiting the Galápagos Islands — they usually take a trip every year, in hopes of seeing the world in their retirement.

“I’m feeling helpless,” Lynda Richard said in a video chat interview. “This is not a holiday, we are trapped here, we are stranded and we would like to come home. We would like our government to give us some hope.”

Hope is in dwindling supply for the couple.

Their time travelling through Ecuador went well after they arrived in early February, prior to the virus becoming a pandemic. Lynda Richard described the country as gorgeous — and worth the trip.

But their dream vacation went dark last week when the federal government called for Canadians travelling abroad to return home as the pandemic reached Canada’s borders, leaving citizens and airlines scrambling.

They had their initial return flight booked for March 19. They tried to get another flight booked sooner with the help of their daughter, to no avail.

“We were this close to making it home before the world crashed,” she said, gesturing with her hands over a video chat from her hotel room.

Their original flight was cancelled, Lynda Richard said. They’ve had no luck with the Canadian Consulate, she says, beyond filling out online forms.

The airlines haven’t been much help either.

“You can’t get through,” she said.

The couple were told they might not get out of the country for up to three weeks — or longer.

They’ve been stuck in limbo at the Quito hotel since Monday.

“You can’t live with that high-level stress all the time without going crazy,” she said. “We’re trying to accept what we can. One thing we can actively do is reach out and let people in Canada know what our situation is, so I feel at least somewhat empowered.”

One of the difficult parts of their predicament is others blaming them for being stranded, Lynda Richard said.

“Being told it’s our fault, we didn’t get home fast enough, we were told — people don’t understand how very difficult it’s been to secure flights.”

The couple is mostly confined to their hotel and its parking lot — they’ve joined a group chat with other Canadians stranded in the hotel, all working together to get home.

“Some people are looking at chartering flights privately and how much that would cost,” she said. “We’re just stewing about that still.”

Lynda Richard is afraid of what may happen in Ecuador as its government attempts to control the spread of the virus, or what access to medical care she may have, she said.

“I don’t know what I am going to do.”

“I would like some hope, and caring and compassion and better communication,” she said. “The government has to get the airlines to charter what they need to and get their people home.”

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