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Esky couple stranded in Honduras

Tim and Julie Bishop

LA PAZ, Honduras — Many people living in Delta County are stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Escanaba residents Tim and Julie Bishop, however, are in a very different situation — they are currently stranded in Honduras and attempting to get back to the United States.

The Bishops, who are involved in a mission group that has been active in La Paz, Honduras, for about 11 years, flew into Honduras on Feb. 25.

“We were scheduled to fly back to the U.S. on March 25,” Tim said in an email interview Monday.

Early on, Tim said the trip had been going well.

“We were getting the work done we had planned and making contact with the people here who were helping us,” he said.

At the time, the Bishops and the residents of La Paz they were working with were aware of the coronavirus. Though Tim said it had appeared to be a “relatively distant problem,” they continued to monitor the situation.

When the United States government issued an advisory to all travelers from the U.S. to return to the country, the Bishops contacted Delta Air Lines, their carrier, and moved their flight to March 15.

“As we were packing to leave on the evening of the 14th we received the news that as of midnight the Honduran government — who has been very aggressive towards this problem — would shut down the airports and indeed, all entry to and exits from the country,” Tim said.

The following day, the Bishops contacted everyone they thought could help, including Delta Air Lines and the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. Reliable information was limited at the time, and still continues to be difficult for the Bishops to receive.

The Bishops have also been working with U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman’s office in their attempts to return to the United States.

“The office of Representative Bergman has been very helpful, working to ensure all our bases are covered and that we are kept up to date,” Tim said.

As of Monday, the Bishops were still in La Paz.

“We are staying in a facility in a poor barrio of La Paz, called La Granja, with the Catholic priest who hosts our mission group,” Tim said.

He went on to note he and Julie were “relatively safe,” but that they had heard rumors of civil unrest in larger cities in Honduras.

On March 20, it was announced that the Honduran government would allow evacuation flights to take place. Travelers were told to get in touch with their carriers to schedule these flights.

“We did so, only to be told that the first available flight out is May 2,” Tim said.

He said the U.S. Embassy is aiming to set up more evacuation flights, and that he and Julie are on the list of candidates for the flights. The scheduling of the flights, whether or not they are actually able to take place, and whether or not they will be able to take all U.S. residents in Honduras home are all in question.

Tim also spoke about the steps the Honduran government is taking in its fight against coronavirus. He said these have included the closure of shops, markets, supermarkets and pharmacies; the restriction of business to carry-out and delivery; and restrictions on travel between towns.

“Honduras is a poor country and the majority of the population live day to day, without much in the way of food reserves. The closure of food stores even on a limited basis could have serious consequences for the people here, and it is unlikely that a curfew can be enforced for too long under those circumstances,” he said.

Due to the close quarters many multi-generational families in Honduras live in, along with the country’s “very gregarious, social culture,” Tim felt social distancing measures were unlikely to be effective there.

“Although as of today there are only 27 confirmed cases in all of Honduras, a breakout in barrios such as this one would be wildfire, exacerbated by existing health conditions … and the relative weakness of the healthcare infrastructure,” he said.

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