COVID-19: Federal government working with Canadian airlines to repatriate citizens stranded abroad

First emergency flight to leave Morocco this weekend

The federal government is working with the country's airlines to make commercial flights available for Canadians stranded abroad, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Saturday, as he also asked Canadians to avoid non-essential travel, including to other provinces. 

The first emergency flight, operated by Air Canada and arranged with the help of the federal government, will bring Canadians home from Morocco this weekend, said Trudeau, addressing Canadians for the sixth consecutive day from outside his Rideau Cottage home as the number of coronavirus cases in Canada surpasses 1,000.  

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The flight will land in Montreal. 

The government is also working with other countries to ensure that the airlines have the permissions and other supports necessary to fly, said Trudeau, who remains in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19.

"We're currently working with other airlines on similar arrangements," he said. "There will be more flights from other locations in the coming days. This potentially includes Peru and Spain."

Other countries will be announced "as soon as possible," Trudeau added, although he cautioned that the government won't be able to bring everyone abroad home.

"Factors like the number of Canadians there, airspace closures and the local situation are being taken into account. We won't be able to reach everyone, but we're going to do our best to help those we can to make sure we can, and get information to people as quickly as possible," he said.

Trudeau said the government will help cover extra costs of the flights, but Canadians on these emergency flights will be expected to pay for their airfare.

The prime minister also said that Canadians abroad should make sure to register with Global Affairs Canada if they haven't already done so. 

Those who do board the flights will be subject to a 14-day self-isolation period once they arrive in Canada, and anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 won't be able to board the plane, said Trudeau. 

Avoid non-essential travel, including other provinces

Trudeau reiterated that Canadians should stay home and avoid non-essential travel, but clarified that this also includes travel to other provinces. 

"We are asking people to stay home as much as possible to avoid non-essential travel," he said. "That means not going to see your neighbours if you don't have to. And that applies to the United States, but it also applies to other provinces.

However, he acknowledged that people may have family, work or other reasons for travel, and anyone in that situation can make a judgement call. 

"But, as much as possible, people should be staying home. People should be self-isolating with their family members so we can all get through this," Trudeau said. 

The Northwest Territories will issue an order today to limit all non-essential travel into the region, said Trudeau.

"We support this important step," he said, adding the government is ensuring essential goods get to people in those communities. 

Trudeau also spoke directly to people on the front lines and supply chain workers.

"Whether you're hospital staff or a first responder, a bus driver, truck driver or freight train operator, I know you're working harder than ever right now," he said.

"So thank you. You're making a real difference for people who need you. I want you to know that we see that, and we're standing behind you."

The Canada-US border was closed to all non-essential traffic midnight Friday, by mutual agreement between the two countries. The federal government has also agreed to bar all irregular migrants from entering Canada for the duration of the agreement.

For all the latest news on COVID-19, click here.

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