Windsor man flies to Ecuador on same day WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic, stuck ever since

When Eris Cubias — along with five friends — flew from Windsor, Ont. to a small town in Ecuador, his plans were simple: "hang out" and attend a friend's wedding.

That's not to say that news of the coronavirus pandemic was non-existent when they flew out on March 11. In fact, that's the same day the World Health Organization declared the outbreak as a "pandemic."

By then, coronavirus cases were spiking throughout Europe and Asia — but in Ecuador, there had only been 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in the South American country.

"We actually did discuss and thought about cancelling this trip [before flying out]. But we were being optimistic and positive about it," said Cubias, adding he purchased insurance on his ticket to cover the costs of last-minute flight changes.

"Plus, we had a wedding to come to, so we figured we'd just go and if things get worse, we'll just change our flight."

It wasn't until he landed that Cubias and his friends learned of the WHO's declaration. Just days afterward, things changed quickly.

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Bars and restaurants in Ecuador were shut down. The pool at his hotel was closed. Nearby beaches were covered in red emergency flags. 

"Everything just picked up really quickly and we just got stuck in our own rooms. We tried to go back to the airport to change the flights back. But at that point, we couldn't make it because there was too many people trying to get back," said Cubias.

"We couldn't get on the last plane that was available — and then they just shut down the airport here."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that a flight would be arranged to bring home Canadians stranded in Morocco.

A spokesperson with the Foreign Affairs Minister's office said the government is particularly concerned about travellers in Morocco and Peru — where a large number of Canadians are stranded.

There's been no word, however, on when Canadians stuck in Ecuador will be able to come home.

"Every time we call the airlines, they say that we're gonna be stuck here until May. That's very discouraging and [left us] feeling hopeless because I call the embassy here as well and they don't really say much other than to just contact the airlines."

Four days after landing in Ecuador, Cubias and his friends checked out early from their hotel and rented out a hostel to save money. Now, they're exhausting their savings to continue to pay for their stay.

The Ecuadorian government has placed restrictions on virtually all movement throughout the country, with very limited exceptions.

We actually did discuss and thought about cancelling this trip [before flying out]. But we were being optimistic and positive about it. - Eris Cubias

"We're locked down here ... They allow people to go to their jobs or for something that's an emergency, like buying supplies. There's roadblocks and everything during the day. And then, at night, the police are just flying around everywhere."

Cubias said he's been left without any options in his attempts to get back home. The Canadian Embassy in Quito hasn't provided much information and calls to their airline often get disconnected.

"It's very hard ... Most of my friends here have children that depend on them. I have a mortgage and a business to run back home. So we're pretty devastated to find out that there's nothing we can do," said Cubias.

"We really feel like like we're abandoned here. We just want to get back home."