'I'm not leaving my dog:' Vernon couple in Mexico wait for flight home - InfoNews

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'I'm not leaving my dog:' Vernon couple in Mexico wait for flight home

Chris Balardo and Mattie sit on their patio in Mexico March 19.
Image Credit: Image credit: Chris Balardo
March 20, 2020 - 7:30 AM

Contrary to her friends back in Canada, Vernon resident Chris Balardo says she isn't stressed about her current situation in Mexico.

"My friends in Canada are going crazy because we're not home," Balardo told iNFOnews.ca. "I'm not stressed, I would stay here... (but) we're worried we might be stuck here."

She says there is a "mass exodus" as snowbirds scramble to arrange to get back to Canada.

Having spent the winter under the Mexican sun, Balardo and her husband Dave Mehner were due to leave Mexico April 17. The coronavirus changed all that, with the Canadian government telling people to come home, and Westjet cancelling their flight as they suspended all international flights as of March 22.

After three hours on hold with Air Canada, Balardo managed to buy the couple the first available flight which could also accommodate their dog 'Mattie' on April 1.

"Kudos to Air Canada," she said, as contrary to some reports of airlines raising ticket prices the Vernon couple paid just over $500 each.

However, two days after purchasing the Air Canada ticket, they were told the flight has now been cancelled. No explanation was given as to why.

The couple has now registered with a government of Canada for a repatriation evacuation flight. They know they're on the list but haven't been given any other details.

They now head into what will be roughly a month-long period of self-isolation because they have to remain solitary before they even get on the flight.

"We can't show up at the airport with a cough. If we do they will deny us (the flight)," Balardo said. "When we get home we have to self isolate again for 14 days."

As the couple also has Mexican resident status, they have no concerns over health insurance coverage.

However, Balardo says their Canadian friends aren't so lucky. They're hearing stories that some insurance companies won't cover COVID-19 related illnesses, while other friends are telling them their insurance companies won't extend their coverage, and they could be stuck in Mexico for longer than planned. Friends who had driven to Mexico months earlier, left a couple of days ago to drive back to Canada. Balardo isn't sure what would have happened to them at the U.S. border.

Balardo said the schools have closed, a twice-weekly market has shut down, restaurants are closing down or restricting the number of customers. The bank will only let in four customers at a time. There's a waiting list at the vet's as foreigners obtain certificates for their pets to fly out of the country.

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University reports 118 COVID-19 cases in Mexico as of March 19.

With flights booked, the couple now has to pack up their Mexican home and tie up loose ends.

While Balardo remains remarkably cool, she is concerned that as airlines refuse to carry dogs in the cargo after April 30 (due to the heat) if the situation changes getting back to Canada with Mattie could be difficult. She also won't leave without her.

"Never would I leave my dog," she said. "I'm not leaving without her."

My friends are going crazy telling her to come home sooner and find someone to look after Mattie, she said.

"If I have to stay here I'll stay here, I'm not leaving my dog."

-- This story was updated 5:10 p.m. Friday March 20, 2020. An earlier version of the story said Balardo had a flight booked for April 1. That flight has since been cancelled. --

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