Coronavirus leaves South Jersey residents stranded in Peru

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Rowan University students are among nearly 2,000 Americans reportedly stranded in Peru as the president of the South American country abruptly closed its borders on Monday, leaving tourists with just 24 hours to search for seats on the streets. return flights.

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra has closed borders, implemented strict curfews, business closures, and food and water rations. The country is now under martial law to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to reports.

More than 70 people from New Jersey have indicated in a spreadsheet, shared publicly online, that they are stranded in Peru.

The spreadsheet was created in Google Docs by a woman in Washington, DC attempting to extract her father and girlfriend from the South American country that now serves as a tool to help any American in need of returning home .

Nearly 2,000 people signed their names and provided information about the document, its creator and administrator Ainsley Katz told the Courier-Post.

It updates it in real time.

South Jersey residents Kenneth Valinote, his sister Kelisa Valinote, both of Pine Hill, and their relatives were among the names on the list.

The quartet, associated with Williamstown-based Paradise Island Entertainment, traveled to Peru on March 3 on vacation, according to Valinote’s girlfriend Marie DiLeonardo.

Kenneth Valinote and Marie DiLeonardo, of Williamstown, are students at Rowan University in Glassboro. Kelisa Valinote’s boyfriend, Jakub Szczepaniak, of Old Bridge, also travels with the group.

Only two cases of COVID-19 were reported in Peru when the group left the United States.

As of Friday, 263 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths were reported by the United States Embassy in Peru.

“I understand they don’t want people to come in, but why aren’t we allowed to come home,” Kelisa Valinote told the Courier-Post of the group’s Airbnb rental in Lima’s Miraflores district.

The offices of Sen. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker know New Jersey residents are stranded in Lima, Cusco and other parts of the country, spokespersons for the two lawmakers told the Courier-Post on Friday.

Menendez spokesperson Steve Sandberg said his office didn’t have an exact number, however.

In a statement, Menendez said he was currently working to return Garden State residents stranded in other countries, including Argentina, Honduras and Morocco, in addition to the “dozens” he estimated were found in Peru.

“I urged the State Department to do everything in its power to assist US citizens overseas to re-enter the United States, including using its authority to arrange commercial charter flights,” said the senator.

“I’ll do whatever I can.”

Through the Courier-Post, Booker’s office reached out to New Jersey residents stranded Friday afternoon, DiLeonardo confirmed.

Menendez’s office said it is not clear how those returning from Peru with State Department intervention will be subject to additional quarantines. It depends on “where they’re from, potential exposure, and advice from health experts, but some sort of quarantine, even self-quarantine, is likely,” Sandberg said.

The southern Jersey quartet and the entire Peruvian population have already been quarantined since Monday under Peru’s strict new rules, DiLeonardo said.

They can’t go out, except to get groceries in a grocery store. They must walk alone or several meters apart. Emergency vehicles are the only vehicles allowed on the roads. Military officers, wearing surgical masks, enforce the rules by stopping non-emergency vehicles and stopping pedestrians to investigate their reasons for being outside their homes, DiLeonardo described.

“When you walk to the supermarket, the army stops you,” she said.

“If you are in your backyard you can be arrested.”

And for tourists, a language barrier adds to the danger and confusion in interacting with military officers and gathering information about the new national quarantine rules, DiLeonardo explained.

Luckily for their group, DiLeonardo is fluent in Spanish.

“To be honest, this is how the whole world should react,” DiLeonardo said of the Peruvian government’s strategy to contain COVID-19.

The group admitted they felt safer in Peru than at home in southern Jersey, where friends on social media made jokes about business closures, curfews, social distancing and social distancing. self-isolation warrants, DiLeonardo said.

The concern in Peru is how long they will have access to the AirBnB apartment they have rented until March 31; Access to supplies and the hostility in their Lima neighborhood towards tourists accused of bringing the virus into the country complicates matters, DiLeonardo said.

The small group’s current goal is to get any flight to the United States. They would prefer a smaller airport to limit their exposure. Then they would rent a car and drive home to New Jersey, they said.

On Monday, the first day of quarantine, they formed a long line of frantic Americans lining up at the gates of the American embassy.

Since Peru has banned queues, to enter grocery stores and the embassy, ​​the group has spent a lot of time waiting with the embassy and the U.S. State Department on the phone.

“We feel blocked, like little dots on our Earth, as if our government has abandoned us,” said DiLeonardo.

While they wait, they ration food and water, work remotely in New Jersey from the rented apartment, and join locals for a round of applause every night at 8 p.m. through the windows of their homes. apartment for military guards on the sidewalks below and other first responders, DiLeonardo describes.

Carly Q. Romalino is originally from Gloucester County and has been covering southern Jersey since 2008. She is a Rowan University graduate and six-time New Jersey Press Association award winner.

She is the Courier Post’s “watchdog”, which looks at issues across the region.

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