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Families of Canadians in Peru look for answers in face of flight cancellations


Parents in Canada whose children are stuck in Peru following border closures are anxiously waiting for any concrete information on how to get their kids home.

Amit Konorty's son, Jacob, 24, and his entire tour group are looking for any option to get back after the government of Peru declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 and shut down its borders Monday for at least 15 days.

There's no transportation between cities and group members have been told to stay in their hotels.

"We went into panic mode, I guess you would call it, right away," Konorty said from Toronto.

Almost immediately, Konorty purchased a plane ticket through Air Canada for his son to fly from Lima to Toronto on April 3. The airline has since suspended international flights and Konorty does not know if his son's flight is included.

The worried father said he has sent emails to government officials, his local member of Parliament and the consulate but has not received any kind of response. He's constantly checking airline and government websites.

"There is a big feeling of helplessness. It's very scary."

A Facebook group created for Canadians stuck in Peru has more than 470 members. People can share the latest information they have: a flight booked, then cancelled; travel restrictions in different countries; or screenshots of emails they've sent to local representatives that have gone unanswered.

Some have floated the idea of chartering a plane.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spoke with the CEOs of West Jet and Air Canada on Wednesday and pointed out how important it is to repatriate Canadians trapped abroad.

"We are going to work very, very hard to bring Canadians home," Trudeau said at his daily briefing Thursday.

Air Canada was given one day's notice of the Peruvian travel restrictions prohibiting international flights, company spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email. There was minimal time to react or make arrangements.

The airline has put in place special one-way fares and is working with the federal government to operate a limited number of charter flights to get Canadians home.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he's made arrangements with Air Canada to bring home a group of high school students stuck in Peru.

"I don't care if we go bus, boat, airplane — whatever it takes to get those kids back," Ford said.

He did not comment on whether there are plans for any other Canadians trapped in the South American country.

"I'm sure something is happening, because that's what he said," said Patricia Sun, whose 15-year-old daughter, Bella, is part of the group of Country Day School students who are stuck.

She has not heard about any specific plan, but remains optimistic that her daughter will come home soon.

The 19 students and a couple of teachers from King City, Ont., arrived in Lima on March 4. They were supposed to return Thursday.

The school and the travel company were already looking to bring the kids home early before the borders closed. Finding flights for all of them proved impossible, so they decided to stick with the original plan, but it all fell apart when planes were grounded.

The kids are starting to get anxious and just want to come home, Sun said. 

"You start to realize how during a time of world crisis and uncertainty you look to your family," she said.

"Right now, everybody just wants to buckle down and stay safe."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2020

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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