Covid-19: Hikers' plea for help after positive test

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Paul McErlean, Charlie Coward and Andreas MaltanImage source, Paul McErlean, Charlie Coward and Andreas Maltan
Image caption,
Paul McErlean (right), Charlie Coward (left) and Andreas Maltan (centre) had to isolate in a vacant property in Cheshire

Three hikers were left stranded after one of them received a positive Covid test result while in the Welsh mountains.

Paul McErlean had been hiking for nine hours with two friends when he received a text saying he had tested positive for the virus.

Unable to stay at their planned campsite, the three men took to social media in a desperate attempt for help.

With both light and hope fading, they were soon inundated with replies - one from a former UK home secretary.

The story of how Mr McErlean, Charlie Coward and Andreas Maltan went from being stuck in the Welsh wilderness to finding "isolation accommodation" was first reported in the County Derry Post.

'Not just for the night'

Speaking to BBC News NI, Mr McErlean, from Lavey, County Londonderry, said he started to feel a "bit sore" in his arms and neck while on the ferry to Liverpool.

Media caption,

"I tested positive for Covid on the side of a mountain"

"I didn't think it was Covid but I was just a bit worried about being in a tent for that long and feeling like that in Snowdonia," he said.

The 23-year-old erred on the side of caution and took a test at the earliest opportunity, which turned out to be in Wolverhampton, en route to Wales.

"The symptoms were gone at this stage but I had already committed to getting the test," he said.

He had almost completely forgotten about it until they were nearing the end of a 30km (18 mile) hike on 23 July and he received his results.

Image source, Paul McErlean
Image caption,
Paul McErlean, Charlie Coward and Andreas Maltan were hiking the Snowdonia way from Machynlleth to Conwy

"We were all absolutely knackered. We had hardly any water left, batteries on our phone were dying and we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere," he said.

"I called the campsite and explained what happened so we couldn't go there.

"There was no room at any B&Bs in the town [Dolgellau] and the closest hotel was not taking Covid-positive travellers for isolation.

"I mean it wasn't just for the night, we needed to find somewhere that was for basically two weeks."

After calls to the NHS helpline and parents, the friends decided to put out a plea on Twitter.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

"ADVICE NEEDED," Mr McErlean's tweet began on July 23 at 20:00.

"Me and 2 lads are hiking in Wales, just got a positive Covid test 20 mins ago.

"Can't stay at the planned campsite tonight, have nowhere to isolate and already know every B&B etc. is booked up.

"No accommodation, no transport and just finished a near 30km hike. What do we do?"

Media caption,

"I tested positive for Covid on the side of a mountain"

Replies from people offering accommodation came, as did advice on what to do next.

"Lisa McGee, who writes Derry Girls, retweeted it and we got an offer from former British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who had a spare caravan," Mr McErlean said.

The former Labour politician told BBC Radio Foyle she was alerted to the hikers' plight by one of her podcast listeners.

"I talk a lot about my caravan in north west Wales, so they knew that I had got one," she said.

"When I saw the plight of Paul and his mates I thought well, I have got sons around about the same age, and I would hate the idea that they were left somewhere with nowhere to stay.

"So I just tweeted him to offer the use of my caravan.

"One of the things I think about in this pandemic is we have got this far because people have been willing to pull together and help each other and it seemed like the right thing to do."

But, Mr McErlean said, "it wasn't all former British home secretaries and people like that, it was mostly ordinary people back home and in the area just offering to help us out - it was really nice."

'A lot of monopoly'

It was a work colleague of Mr McErlean's father who came to the rescue in a minivan and let them stay in a vacant property in Cheshire, where they remained until 2 August.

When asked how the three spent their time, he replied: "A lot of monopoly".

"No-one lives in the house so there's no wifi," he said.

"We treated ourselves to some Olympic events on our phone data, but we had to pick and choose which ones very wisely."

Image source, Paul McErlean
Image caption,
The friends will not be going anywhere else in a hurry

Mr McErlean, who is heading back to Northern Ireland, said the experience had been a "wake-up call".

"It's definitely made me think twice about Covid," he said.

"I was due in for my second jab but that's obviously delayed now with my positive test.

"We got lucky - my symptoms were mild. Many young people haven't got two [vaccine] doses yet and many may not have money if they were to get stuck like us.

"I don't think I'll be going anywhere too soon but I'll definitely be getting a Covid test if I do."