By Jeff Wagner

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesotan who has been trapped across the world in another country’s COVID-19 lockdown is finally on board a plane home.

Mike White, of Ramsey, was in India, a country with around 3,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 5.

“I got to India on March 4, I came from Bangkok,” White said.

It was the final leg of a much needed international trek for White. But quickly, his time in India went from sightseeing and celebrating to riding out a strict countrywide lockdown.

At first, it was supposed last one day on March 22, with people being asked to stay at home from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. At that point, India had hundreds of confirmed COVID-19 cases, while the United States had more than 30,000. Then on March 24, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day lockdown.

“That’s when kind of mayhem started. People cleared everything out, similar to I guess what happened in the U.S., more with food, not toilet paper,” White said.

Then came confusion on following the lockdown rules.

“People in the restaurants and the grocery stores [and others] didn’t know how to get food without being in trouble with the law enforcement. It kind of felt like we were doing something illegal trying to just go get food to feed ourselves,” he said.

Checkpoints were set up at every state border, stopping all non-essential travelers. But White said it initially slowed the transportation of food to where he was staying in Goa.

“If you got up early enough and like went around, I could find like randomly like bread one day and like milk another day,” he said.

Mike White on a charter bus in India with other Americans to Mumbai (credit: Mike White)

He said that food availability got better after about a week into the lockdown.

Part of him was enjoying the solitude in his beach hut, but thoughts of the virus spreading in a country with a high population density worried him. White decided he would rather travel home to the United States. The problem was all flights, domestic and international, were cancelled during the lockdown.

He contacted the U.S. Embassy in India and was told to enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program. He got daily emails, keeping him updated on what was happening in the country and if flights home would become available.

“Took about a week I would say, and then our people working in the embassy working their butts off got some flights organized home from Mumbai and Delhi, so we can get us Americans that want to get home back home,” he said.

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The flight will cost him $1,700. White said that’s three times more than what he was expecting to pay before the outbreak hit.

On April 4, he and several other Americans who booked the same flight boarded three charter buses in Goa. It would be a 15-hour ride to Mumbai, where their flight would depart late Sunday night.

“Before we got on the bus, they checked everyone’s lungs to make sure they didn’t hear any like liquid and phlegm kind of going in there,” he said.

Coming home to a country with significantly more COVID-19 cases than India is nerve wracking, he said, but he trusts America’s healthcare system more, even if it’s being strained.

“I’m just a little worried because the numbers seem low in India to be honest with you. I hope that they stay this way. But I’d prefer to just be in my own country I guess and watch this happen from the sidelines then to be here and go through it in a foreign land,” he said. “I think everyone’s kind of ready to go home because it’s just the uncertainty of what’s gonna happen here.”

White’s flight lands in Atlanta on April 6. From there, he said each passenger must figure out their own way to get home.

Jeff Wagner