Never in a million years did Patrick Dussault imagine he’d be stranded in the middle of the jungle on a tropical island during a global pandemic.
The 34-year-old Montrealer has lived for the last two months on the small island of Utila, Honduras, while studying programming online. The island is now under a strict lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. With soldiers and police patrolling the island, Dussault feels a sense of urgency to get home.
“Being away from friends and family has been strange and being near them right now feels right. Even though I can’t see them that much, I still want to be in the community,” Dussault told HuffPost Canada from the house he’s renting, surrounded by trees and iguanas and close to the sea.
If he returns to Montreal, he would be under a mandatory quarantine for 14 days, as announced by Health Minister Patty Hajdu Wednesday. The new measure applies to all travellers returning to Canada, with the exception of essential workers coming from the U.S.
“Utila and Montreal are safe in different ways. Montreal has stronger organization and infrastructure, but so many more people,” Dussault said.
The World Health Organization reports 30 cases of COVID-19 in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the world. In Utila, with a population of about 4,000 people, there appear to be no cases.
Dussault estimates there are about 40 Canadians on Utila. He’s connected with them through a Facebook group and said he’s among about 15 others who want to leave as soon as possible.
The one way off Utila, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, is by way of a small plane that flies to the nearby island of Roatan where there’s an international airport. But Honduran officials are only permitting passengers off Utila if they have a ticket for a flight leaving Roatan within 24 hours of arriving, and received special permission through the Canadian consulate.
The WestJet flight Dussault had booked months in advance for the end of March was cancelled in response to COVID-19. And as far as he knows, he won’t be allowed or able to travel to the mainland to catch the two Air Transat flights planned by the federal government to repatriate stranded Canadians in Honduras. The country is barring most other commercial flights as it has closed its airspace.
Global Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Its efforts in recent weeks have helped tens of thousands of Canadians return home during the pandemic, the federal department reported in a media update Tuesday. Stranded Canadians whom HuffPost recently profiled have since returned home, including students in Kenya and tourists in Morocco, and backpackers in Peru.
Watch: Coronavirus fears leaves world famous sites empty. Story continues below.
“I know it’s hard for everyone,” said Dussault about the government’s efforts. “I know they’re working on it. I guess I’d say, ‘Don’t forget us on the islands.’”
Two days ago, Dussault said he got a notice that Air Transat was leaving Roatan in two hours with 50 empty seats up for grabs. Despite potentially being one of his last chances to get home, it would’ve been impossible to arrange for a flight from Utila in time.
“It was so frustrating,” said Dussault. “Why didn’t you guys give us more of a heads up?”
There’s no hospital on Utila, but a few health clinics and a lot of oxygen tanks because of the local scuba diving industry that could be used to help any future COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe, said Dussault. People are allowed to go outside between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to get supplies and groceries, but he’s concerned by the lack of organization.
Last week, for example, the main grocery store informed its customers that there would be no food coming from the mainland for one or two weeks, said Dussault. In response, people raided the shelves.
“How can you cut supplies to an island like that? We are so at the mercy of the mainland,” said Dussault. He kept calm by remembering the island is full of potential food sources like coconuts, plantains, bananas and fish, and since the scare, the store has found a way to restock.
On Tuesday, Dussault managed to book a flight with American Airlines for March 29, to fly from Roatan to Montreal. He’s crossing his fingers it’s not cancelled and he’s allowed off Utila.
“This (pandemic) is going to be bookmarked in history,” said Dussault. “It would be funny if my story was I was in the jungle for all those months.”
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