As countries around the globe tighten their borders to confront the rapid spread of the coronavirus, a Philadelphia-area family is stuck in a Peruvian hotel with a limited supply of food and medication. Their family is now scrambling to find a way to get them on a flight.
Christine Robinson, 34, of Buckingham Township, Bucks County, has been working around the clock this week to bring home four family members, to no avail. They include her parents, Joseph and Rocio Higney — both in their 60s and from Doylestown — as well as her sister, Denise Higney, and her sister’s boyfriend, Daniel Dougherty, both 25 and from Philadelphia.
Robinson described Peru as on “lockdown,” and said her relatives had relayed that they can’t leave their hotel in Lima, the nation’s capital, without encountering the military patrolling the streets.
“The uncertainty is just unbearable,” she said.
The four family members, all U.S. citizens, are among hundreds of Americans who have connected with each other on Facebook after becoming stuck in Peru after the country’s move to close its borders. The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency Sunday and closed its border to international travel while also issuing a mandatory 15-day quarantine nationwide.
Then, on Thursday, the State Department issued a warning urging Americans abroad to either come back to the United States or prepare to stay where they are indefinitely.
That’s left travelers and their families contacting airlines, officials, embassies, and the State Department in a desperate attempt to figure out a path home. A Change.org petition urging the U.S. government to find a way to get hundreds of Americans home from Peru has garnered thousands of signatures.
In a statement to NBC News, the State Department said it was aware that the governments of several countries had suspended air travel, and was “considering all options to assist U.S. citizens in these countries and are continuously assessing travel conditions in all areas affected by COVID-19.”
The Higney family had been traveling in Peru, where Rocio Higney was born, for about a week, Robinson said. They monitored the situation before leaving the U.S., she said, and there were no indications of a travel ban at that point.
Robinson said she was worried about her parents contracting the coronavirus. Peru has reported more than 200 cases, according to a Johns Hopkins project tracking the disease.
“I just hope that we can just get it done and just get them home,” she said. “I’m desperate.”
While hundreds of Americans have found themselves stranded abroad, others went through days-long ordeals to travel home.
Fritz Ward, who works in alumni and parent engagement at Swarthmore College, found himself stuck in Morocco this week with a group of alumni, many in their 60s or older, desperately trying to get home as flights were repeatedly either canceled or full after the country closed its borders last week.
Ward, 42, said he and others were scheduled to fly out of Casablanca on Monday, but only four people in their group of 14 could fit on the flight. Ward’s name was called, but he gave his ticket to an older woman in his group.
He and the others spent the next several days working with airlines to try to find a way — any way — out of Morocco.
Finally, on Thursday, they boarded a flight from Marrakesh to London Stansted Airport, then drove to Heathrow Airport, where they stayed overnight ahead of a Friday afternoon flight to Newark, N.J.
“I’ve just spent so much nervous energy trying to figure things out for the group, and trying to be responsible for them and keep everyone safe and calm,” he said 20 minutes before boarding. “Now that I’m at the gate, I’m feeling excited.”
Miriam Hill has lived in Australia for the last four years along with her husband, Nicholas Simon, and 12-year-old son, Luke. They planned to travel the world for a few months before returning to the U.S., where Luke would start school in the fall.
While traveling in Jodhpur, India, this week, those plans quickly changed, foiled by warnings they’d be stuck as the crisis rapidly spread and countries began closing their borders.
A frantic search for a flight yielded tickets to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, but the trip would be lengthy. On Tuesday, they traveled from Jodhpur to Delhi, then from Delhi to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday. While there, Hill and Simon saw a headline that the State Department was urging Americans to come home or be prepared to stay put. Hill, a former Inquirer reporter, said she had been “waffling” about leaving India and the State Department guidance confirmed their decision was the right one.
It was in Delhi where they found comfort in an unexpected place. Sitting in their hotel room at a Hilton Garden Inn, restaurant staff came to the door to deliver a piece of cake. In chocolate on the plate was a message wishing the family safe travels.
Hill, sitting at baggage claim at JFK and waiting to get on a train back to the Philadelphia area, said she nearly cried at the gesture — it was something that made the ordeal bearable.