Friday 30 October, 2020

Locked down: Diary of a Trini stuck in Ecuador amid COVID-19

After spending 12 months employed as a journalist in beautiful Ecuador, I began preparing to return to Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday, March 21, 2020. However, I received an email on March 19, 2020, which informed me that due to the closure of Panama’s airport for 30 days, my flight had been cancelled.

This became the first major hindrance I encountered as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially, I became concerned since my partially used ticket was about to expire on the scheduled day for travel. Would I be able to use the now expired ticket in future or would I need to purchase a very expensive new one? Copa Airlines has since assured me that I would be able to use the ticket until December 2021.

In light of these developments, relatives and loved ones have questioned how I feel about being stuck in a foreign country. The answer is all but simple.

At the time this article was published, Trinidad and Tobago had 57 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus which has already disrupted the way of life for those who reside there. Ecuador has 1082 confirmed cases with 27 deaths. Although precautions are in place with limited movement allowed and a state of emergency from 7 pm to 5 am, the highly contagious pathogen can and will continue to affect thousands more.

Beginning midnight, Sunday, March 22, 2020, the Trinidad and Tobago Government took the decision to close the nation’s borders indefinitely. This means I have no clear idea as to when I could return to the land of my birth.

In spite of this great inconvenience, I’m pleased to know that efforts are being taken to mitigate the spread of this virus. I am also grateful that I have reduced my risk of contracting COVID-19 while travelling and potentially spreading it to my family members and the rest of the citizenry.

Life under lockdown in the middle of the earth  

On March 13, 2020, my friend Camila and I went to Esmeraldas, a coastal community in Ecuador that’s five hours away from the capital, Quito, where we live. While there, we were informed that the Government initiated a state of emergency which restricted bars from playing music, ordered the closure of non-essential services and ultimately stopped people from gathering in public spaces. Public transportation was also halted.

On receiving the news, Camila and I decided to travel back to Quito immediately as this would be impossible once the restrictions came into effect. When we returned, it was apparent that the usually busy malls and streets became no man’s land.

Panic buying was as evident here as it was in Trinidad and Tobago. There are literally no Lysol wipes or sprays, anywhere. There are other brands, though. People could be seen purchasing 10 loaves of bread with no limits imposed just yet. There are no taxis, no buses, only Uber eats and Glovo deliveries. The shelves in the grocery stores are stocked, for now. This limited movement and state of emergency can last as much as 60 days. In Quito, it’s expected to expire on April 17, 2020, but can be extended.

For now, I am safe although I'm not sure when I'll be able to see my friends and family or savour the sweet culture and tastes of T&T. I am at the mercy of legal restrictions but choose to remain optimistic and look forward to the end of this deadly pandemic. Until then, it's life under lockdown at the centre of the earth. 


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