Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is working with airlines to repatriate Canadians stranded abroad amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but is warning the government won’t be able to bring everyone home.
A repatriation flight, operated by Air Canada, landed in Casablanca, Morocco Saturday, where it was to pick up between 400 and 450 Canadians and bring them back to Montreal. Mr. Trudeau said the government is in talks with airlines to arrange other repatriation flights for Canadians in Peru and Spain, but the details are still being sorted out. He said announcements regarding rescue flights from other countries will be made “as soon as possible.”
“We’re working with Canadian airlines to make commercial flights available for as many who are stranded as possible. We will also be working with other countries to ensure that our airlines have the permissions and other supports necessary to fly,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters from outside his residence in Ottawa, where he is self-isolating after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for the virus.
“We won’t be able to reach everyone but we’re going to do our best to help those we can.”
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Mr. Trudeau said he has spoken directly with the heads of Canada’s largest airlines in the past few days, saying they are “all in” when it comes to getting stranded Canadians home. He said factors, including the number of Canadians in a particular region and airspace closures, are being considered as the government plans other flights.
Canadians will be expected to pay a “responsible ticket price” for their flight home, Mr. Trudeau said. If Canadians are unable to get on a flight home, he encouraged them to apply for an emergency government loan of up to $5,000 to help cover expenses they incur while abroad.
“Everyone needs to take the best decisions for them. Obviously if they are not certain they are going to be getting on a flight, they’re probably better to stay in place,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister encouraged all Canadians abroad to register with Global Affairs Canada so the government can communicate with them. Ottawa is working with telecom companies to send mass text messages to Canadians abroad, reaching hundreds of thousands of people over the past few days.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government is focusing repatriation flight efforts on “hot spots" where airspace and border closures prevent anyone from leaving the country.
“My priority is to ensure the safe return of Canadian travelers back home," Mr. Champagne said during a briefing with reporters in Ottawa on Saturday.
“The situation is changing hour by hour. Countries impose new flight restrictions ... We understand why other countries do this because we have done so as well."
Mr. Champagne spoke to his Peruvian counterpart on Saturday morning during a joint call with other nations, and the Peruvian foreign minister said his government would allow repatriation flights to enter the country’s airspace. However, shortly after the call, Peru’s defence minister said the country would no longer allow the flights as of Sunday, causing confusion.
In a tweet Saturday afternoon, Mr. Champagne said he followed up with his Peruvian counterpart who confirmed that Canadian travelers can still return home on repatriation flights. The departure details for those flights are still being finalized, Mr. Champagne’s office said.
Emma Goodman, an 18-year-old from Prince Edward County, Ont., is among the Canadians stranded in Peru. She said she has received some emails from the Canadian government urging citizens abroad to register with Global Affairs - something she did before she left for Peru - but she has no idea when she will get out of the country. She said she is overwhelmed.
“I feel frustrated a little bit with the lack of communication from our government," Ms. Goodman told The Globe and Mail in a phone interview from Cusco, Peru. “I’m a first-time traveler. Alone. I’m really still a kid.”
Ms. Goodman arrived in Peru on March 8 for a volunteer trip. She said that while her host family is providing her and her Swiss roommate with three meals a day and bottled water, she is still anxious to get home to her family.
Mr. Champagne said he would also be speaking with his Ecuadorian counterpart on Saturday to discuss the possibility of repatriating Canadians stranded in the South American country.
The minister encouraged Canadians who still have access to commercial flights, such as citizens in Mexico, to book a return flight as soon as possible. He also urged all Canadian snowbirds in the United States to come home soon.
Mr. Champagne said the government is also monitoring a number of cruise ships with Canadians on board. He said dozens of Canadians aboard a cruise in Marseille, France returned home Friday, after a COVID-19 outbreak on the ship.
Canadians with symptoms of the virus will not be allowed to board flights, Mr. Champagne reiterated, while those who are allowed to fly home must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.