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Thriving Together 2: Repatriation Experience Due to COVID-19

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My name is Salve Libunao. I came to Canada in July 2008 as a Temporary Foreign Worker for Tim Hortons. I became a permanent resident in April 2014. My husband, Rollie Libunao and 2 sons (Rovic Clark and March Angelo) arrived in May 2014 as permanent residents as well. We all became Canadian citizens in July 2019.


It had been almost 5 years since we had been back to the Philippines. After saving enough money, we decided to visit the Philippines this past March during the children's spring break. We were all excited and looked forward to connecting with our families, relatives and friends. We kept our eyes open for discounted plane fares. In August 2019, we booked our flights to depart Canada on March 08, 2020 with a return flight on April 05, 2020. We arrived in the Philippines in the early morning of March 10, 2020. After a day of rest, we started connecting with our family, relatives and friends.


Six days after our arrival, the president of the Philippines declared a State of Calamity amid the threats posed by COVID-19 for the entire country. At the same time, Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was implemented in Luzon. We were in one of the provinces of Luzon, about 40 km south of Metro Manila. Under ECQ, only one person per household can leave the house on a particular day and time of the week to buy supplies needed. This person is given an ECQ pass as authorities check this pass when people are out and about. Our plans to travel within the country were no longer possible. We had to stay home the majority of the time. Domestic and International flights were cancelled; airports were closed, even travel between communities was not permitted.


We constantly checked for updates on the situation, both in the Philippines and Canada. Prior to our trip, we registered with Canadians Abroad, a free service that allows the Government of Canada to notify you in case of an emergency while abroad. We received updates from the Canadian Embassy on the COVID-19 situation. The Canadian Government even offered an Abroad Emergency Loan to assist citizens and permanent residents to meet their needs, specifically for a return flight. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that all Canadians must go home, we tried to rebook our flights for an earlier one but it was very difficult to get through to Philippine Airlines. Our April 5 confirmed flights were also cancelled. We found out that there were a lot of Canadians wanting to go back to Canada; some of them made a Facebook page so we could connect and help each other.


As the situation developed, we received an email from the Canadian Embassy informing us that we could leave on a chartered flight on April 14, for Canadian citizens and permanent residents. We jumped on the opportunity and called the phone number they provided and booked our return flight back to Canada. The flight was full; the airline attendants wore personal protective equipment at all times and had minimized contact with passengers. The passengers wore masks at all times. It was not the usual flight (there was a meal for dinner and breakfast, snacks in between but, no juice/coffee offered but, we were given a big bottle of water).


At the Vancouver Airport, we were greeted and reminded to keep the 2 meter distance from others and were asked about our self-isolation plan. We were provided with a form to fill out in regards to our self-isolation plan once arriving home and informed that the 14 day isolation is mandatory. On our second day of isolation, we received a couple of calls from the BC government to check if we were experiencing any symptoms and if we needed any assistance. They called us again after 5 days. They were making sure that we did not develop any symptoms and that we were complying with the self-isolation plan we submitted.


We are so happy to be back home, safe and healthy. We are now back to work and our 2 sons are doing online schooling. It was a different vacation from what we anticipated but we are really thankful for the assistance the Canadian Embassy provided. If they had not arranged that flight, we probably would still be in the Philippines with a lot of uncertainty.

Enjoying a lovely family time
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