Justin Trudeau is urging Canadian travellers to return from abroad while they still can, but is also introducing strict new rules that will make it harder to come back.
“We are conscious that there are Canadians abroad and having difficulty returning and will have greater difficulty as a result of the measures we have announced today. We are talking with the airlines about bringing those people home,” federal transport minister Marc Garneau told reporters.
Because of this, Ottawa has announced funding designated for Canadians in another country. Those waiting for flights will have their “basic needs” covered—neither Trudeau nor other government spokespeople elaborated on what that includes, but it is likely a daily allowance that may cover food and accommodation. There is also money earmarked to help pay for medical treatment that they might need in another country. More details will be available in the coming days.
With conditions changing in a matter of hours, some Canadians have been scrambling to get back or have become stuck abroad, with options disappearing by the hour. On Friday, the federal government advised Canadians against non-essential travel outside the country and imposed restrictions on international flights and cruises. By Saturday, travellers abroad were told to come back to Canada while commercial flights were still available.
When asked about the federal government’s rapidly-changing stance on travel over the last few days, Trudeau said this was necessary because “this situation has been evolving extremely rapidly and the recommendations of public health public safety has been evolving as well.”
According to Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, about 87 percent of coronavirus cases in Canada are linked to international travel. Thirteen percent are the result of community exposure within Canada.
An updated list of Air Canada, Sunwing, and Air Transat flights and cancellations is available here.
The country’s largest airliner, Air Canada, announced Monday plans to cut capacity by 50 percent because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines around the world have already slashed routes causing a price spike for tickets into Canada. NBC reported that an Air Canada employee told people that canceling a flight and then re-booking it might be faster than rescheduling.
Mount Albert, Ontario resident Graeme Frisque experienced a dramatic increase in price for flights while he was trying to find a flight out of Rome last week when his route was cancelled after Italy went into lockdown. He eventually managed to book a seat on Ryanair from Rome to London but the flight (which cost $36 the previous week) was $310. Even though he thought the new fare was “price gouging,” Frisque jumped on it. “I got lucky at the very last minute and I took that luck and got the hell out.”
He said Rome had become a ghost town during the five days that he was there. “There weren’t a lot of people around and I took pictures of Trevi fountain and the Pantheon being empty,” he said. “After 9 o’clock at night is when it really got creepy. There was nobody on the street. It kind of reminded me of a zombie movie—walking through this massive city that’s normally packed with people and there was nobody on the street.”
Frisque, who is a reporter for the Brampton Guardian and Mississauga News, landed in Toronto from London on Saturday. He’ll be working from home and self-isolating for 14 days even though he doesn’t have any symptoms, which is what the federal government requires for travellers who have returned from abroad.
For others who manage to book a flight, the federal government has asked airlines to do a “basic health assessment” of passengers and deny boarding to anyone with coronavirus symptoms.
If they make it back, only four Canadian airports (Montreal, Pearson airport in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver) will receive international flights. When they land, they will all be subject to additional screening and asked if they currently have a cough, difficulty breathing, or a fever.
According to Bill Blair, the minister of public safety, there will be extra federal officers on the ground on the lookout for travellers who look ill and ensuring “proper social distancing.” Those who show symptoms will be given masks and escorted away from the crowds.
They will also have to sign off on a questionnaire acknowledging that they’ve been asked to self-isolate for 14 days, monitor their symptoms, and seek medical help if necessary. To highlight these messages further, they will appear on airport signs and each passenger will be given a leaflet outlining all of this information.
These brochures outlining the need to self-isolate will also be given to travellers driving into Canada from the U.S.
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