Wednesday, March 18, 2020

COVID19, Family, Reflections and getting Canadians home

COVID 19 started hitting the news sometime in the beginning of January and like the virus the news of the havoc that this virus has been causing across the world has continued. 

Before any of this I would have constant nightmares about the end of the world. Some involved natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes. Other dreams would involve situations very much like this one were a virus or plague runs through our world and ... well things get bad in my nightmares. One constant theme has always been that there has been a separation from family - either I am by myself or part of my family is in a different location and we struggle to find one another again. I have been off work since the beginning of June dealing with depression, anxiety and PTSD. I never truly understood how much anxiety played a role in my life until I stopped being at work and stopped pretty much everything else and then I truly started to understand the thoughts and feelings I was having was a constant state of anxiety.

I have been working with some amazing counsellors and referred to some excellent programs as we work to get a balance for my treatment plan and correct medication. A few months ago grocery shopping was completely and totally overwhelming to me, but we had worked on strategies to cope.  Then a few weeks ago something struck me and it took me 4 hours to do my grocery shopping on a Monday night. It was the sight of empty shelves - and the longer I went through the store more and more was missing. I know that this has been a common sight lately; however, this was at the start of March.  I grabbed a few extra of a couple of things and headed home. I remember walking into my living room saying to my husband that I think I am over reacting and this can't be real. I spent the week making lists and doing some preparing of items for our home. I sent my Dad a link to an article about panic buying in China and Italy on February 26, 2020.  

My parents have been in Europe since New Years visiting family and having some relaxing time in Portugal. They were planning on coming back March 31, 2020. This is a trip they have taken before, but they haven't been back to Portugal in a number of years so they were definitely looking forward to it. 

On March 4, 2020 I messaged my Dad about the toilet paper crisis letting him know it was starting here in Canada. On March 6, 2020 I sent him a link showing the growth and spread of the virus in Europe. On March 8, 2020 I asked my parents if they had heard about what was happening in Italy, and on March 9, 2020 I sent him a link to register with the Canadian Government. On March 11, 2020 I told my parents that when they come home they need to be self-isolating for at least two weeks. On March 12, 2020 I sent him news about the US suspending all travel from Europe and told him they should think about coming home early. He replied that he and other people had looked into it but it would cost upwards of $1,000 a person to change the flights. I could tell my parents were getting frustrated with me and I thought maybe it was just my anxiety acting up. On March 14, 2020 Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted:

That is the night that everything changed. They had gotten an email from Air Canada saying their flights were changed from March 31, 2020 to March 30, 2020. I spoke with them at 8:30 pm CST and they said maybe we should move up their flights to go home at the same time as friends who were staying with them in Portugal. They were having problems accessing the Air Canada website from Portugal as were some others. I had tried logging on to the Air Canada website to make changes and couldn't so I called into Air Canada for them. 

I sat that night on hold with Air Canada for 2 hours before talking to an amazing agent who managed to get them booked to come home on March 26, 2020 on the same flights as their friends. When I spoke with the Agent we had looked at earlier dates but I wasn't sure and I was again doubting my anxiety. I spoke with my parents on March 15, 2020 around 3:30 am CST and everything looked good for their flights and they were happy (the downside of going through my current situation is I have difficulty getting to sleep and staying to sleep - the upside for the past week meant that I have been able to have more constant contact with my parents). 

I went to sleep only to be woken up at 9:12 AM CST by a frantic FaceTime call from my parents said that they needed to get home as soon as possible and to try changing their flights.  I picked up the phone and again waited on hold for 2 hours with Air Canada. I managed to speak with Simon who was an amazing rep who updated me through out the process. One of her problems was that she had to wait to speak to a specialty department about prices and the hold time for that area was 1 hour. 4 hours after the call started my parents and their friends were booked on a flight home to Canada leaving Lisbon flying through Music then Toronto and home. During that call we were offered flights that flew through the US and I didn't want have to deal with that so we flew them through Germany. 

My parents had less than two days to pack up everything in the Apartment where they were staying, a process that usually takes about a week, get on a bus and make the three hour ride to Lisbon before staying the night at the Tryp Lisboa Aeroporto hotel. 

March 16 and 17th consisted of worried FaceTime calls updating with how things were progressing in Portugal, how everyone was doing and how the other Canadians at the complex were handling things. 

When they arrived at the hotel on the March 17th they met fellow Canadian travellers who were still struggling to get home. Some couples had purchased 3 or 4 different sets of tickets only to show up and find out the flight had been cancelled or they were denied Boarding because the flight had a stopover in the US and they were not US citizens. It has been a very long night and very concerning considering our Prime Minister Issued a statement today 

“I think it’s just realistic to know that there are some of them that will not be coming home in the coming weeks, but we will make measures available through Global Affairs Canada,” Trudeau
This is a very concerning statement to anyone with a loved one or family member that is overseas. Especially when many people are having to get on flights to fly to other major cities to get a flight to Canada and some have would up stuck in the lay over country when flights suddenly get cancelled. I have a significant understanding that this is an unprecedented time in our Country and World. However, to think that the government would abandon citizens at this time is disconcerting. I reached out to the Tryp Hotel and sent information I could and they hotel agreed to print out the information and pass it on to passengers.  I heard from some of those passengers that the email was an automatic bounce back with no new information on how to help. Emails and phone calls to various numbers were not being returned and only greeted with automated messages and long hold times. 

The last message I have from my dad was at 12:15 CST March 18, 2020 saying they are at the gate waiting for the plane.  I have been watching the status of their flight from Lisbon to Munic and then waiting to see if the Munic flight to Toronto took off.

In this time I was contacted by a lovely couple from Halifax who are desperately trying to get home and were having no luck because of flights being cancelled. They originally had secured a flight to return home on March 19, 2020 (the very same flight my parents had left on today) but they could not check in. They sent me their information and I tried to figure out what was wrong only to find out that their flight was cancelled. I called Air Canada again and spent 2 hours on hold before reaching Prince. In their system everything was fine and they hadn't even found out yet that the flight had been cancelled, but he looked and confirmed. You could hear the stress in his voice - it was the last call of his shift and I cannot begin to imagine how difficult and long his and other shifts have been. We were able to secure the couple a flight home tomorrow through London and we are crossing our fingers for the next couple of hours that it does not get cancelled. 

I am happy I was able to help this couple - extremely grateful but very disheartened at the same time. Many other people have been left in the same situation. Our Government should be doing more - including making agreements with the US to let our citizens transit through the country if it is a stop over. We are still allowing US citizens to fly into Canada and then home but stranding our own people because we cannot or have not taken the same action. We cannot let families be separated like this.  For me it is now 7:28 AM CST and I haven't been to sleep in about 20 hours. I am going to sleep now with my phone on just in case another person has to reach out to me for help. I cannot do much to help them other than sit on hold and reach out to the airlines to help them but it is at least doing something while I wait for my parents to arrive home. 

If COVID19 teaches us nothing use - it will teach us to be grateful - grateful for our families, our loved ones and the time we have together. I hope continues to remind us the need to help each other and act selflessly. 

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