Spanish cancer survivor stays behind as 300 students return to Spain from Canada amidst pandemic

As a plane full of international students was scheduled to make their way back to Spain from Canada early this morning in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, at least one student who was supposed to be aboard stayed behind.

"I was in a state that I didn't know what was going to happen, now I am 100 per cent sure that I am not leaving and that I am safe," 16-year-old Uxia Manso said. 

Manso, a childhood cancer survivor, was supposed to be aboard a charter flight out of Toronto's Pearson Airport scheduled to leave at 12:30 a.m. on Friday, along with 300 other students heading back to Spain. Another flight carrying 300 of the students on the same exchange in the United States is also scheduled to return to Spain from Dallas as well.

Jacob Barker/CBC

Manso was in Canada attending a high school in Windsor on a scholarship from the Ortega Foundation, which belongs to Amancio Ortega Gaona, a Spanish billionaire who is most well known for his ownership of the Zara clothing brand. 

Manso's placement was made through an agency called Muskoka Language International (MLI), which facilitates homestays across the country.

"They're all going to be flying out at midnight back to Madrid, Spain," Kimberley Wolfe, Manso's host parent said. "Madrid is one of the hardest hit areas in the world currently." 

Cancer patients

Wolfe and Manso's family expressed concerns about the 16-year-old's wellbeing if she was going to be aboard the flight, which eventually led the agency and the foundation to agree to let her stay on with Wolfe, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy.

"She's isolated with me and I mean strictly because I also have to be careful of my health conditions," Wolfe said. 

MLI said that they brought Wolfe's concerns to the Ortega Foundation and that with her parents' consent, Manso would not be returned to Spain with the rest of the group, but the organization did not have any direction from the foundation as to whether or not they would allow her to stay with Wolfe.

"We were just told that she was fine to stay where she is and the focus has not shifted to the future," Cheryl Lee managing director of MLI said.

"Her parents are in agreement with me, they are very concerned that if their daughter leaves isolation where she is currently safe and is forced anywhere then she could contract this virus and it could kill her."

Reached by phone her family did not want to comment on the matter but her father, Andres Manso Gomez said he wants his daughter to stay on with Wolfe.

We think that the planning was bad and that they make it so quickly and they are not doing the right thing right now.  - Andres Manso Gomez, Uxia Mano's father

"I think she is happy there and she's in good hands with Kimberley, it's very safe now," he said.

Bad planning

He also said that while he was happy with the foundation up until now — he did not agree with their plan to bring all the students back. 

"We think that the planning was bad and that they make it so quickly and they are not doing the right thing right now," Gomez said. 

The COVID-19 virus is spreading rapidly in Spain right now, and earlier this week the death toll surpassed that of China. 

Wolfe said she thinks the planes should stay grounded.

"It shouldn't be dealt with this way," Wolfe said. 

"I do take issue with an organization no longer caring about their safety and their wellbeing and having the control over them to send them home in a situation where their lives are put at stake." 

CBC News reached out for a response about the situation from Ortega Scholarship Foundation but have not received a response.