Air Canada announced Friday it will operate a special flight out of Morocco on Saturday to bring Canadians back home as international borders shut down over the coronavirus pandemic.
The airline said it will employ a wide-body aircraft with 450 seats for the flight from the North African city of Casablanca to Montreal. Global Affairs Canada will then co-ordinate local arrangements for Canadians to return home.
Those passengers will then have to self-isolate for 14 days. They will also have to undergo a health screening prior to boarding the aircraft, and anyone with COVID-19 symptoms will be denied boarding unless they can prove their symptoms are not related to the novel coronavirus.
“We understand it’s a challenging time for all Canadians who are still abroad and anxious to come back home,” Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu said in a statement.
“Our teams are working around the clock with the Canadian Government and offering our global reach to do everything we can to repatriate as many Canadians as possible, recognizing that we will not be able to assist all.”
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne urged Canadians in Morocco to secure a seat on the flight, which Air Canada confirmed will have to be paid for — unlike past repatriation flights for Canadians stuck on cruise ships abroad.
The federal government has made loans available to those abroad totalling $5,000 per person and can be used for flights and accommodations while the country tries to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
Those who registered with Canada’s Repatriation of Canadians Abroad program received an email Friday saying the cost of the flight would be $1,272 plus tax per person, and that tickets are available to Canadian citizens and permanent residents only.
The email, which was viewed by Global News, urged Canadians to book tickets well before the flight is scheduled to leave at 6:50 p.m. Moroccan time, “as the number of seats is limited.”
Morocco suspended all international flights out of the country Friday, where the number of cases jumped to 79 that evening, including three deaths.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had alluded to the Morocco flight when speaking with reporters earlier Friday, saying the government was in discussions with airlines to help bring home Canadians from all countries.
Global Affairs Canada would not say how many Canadians have reached out for help getting back home from Morocco, citing privacy laws.
Air Canada announced on Wednesday it would continue to operate “air bridges” between Canada and six international airports — London, Paris, Frankfurt, Delhi, Tokyo and Hong Kong — throughout the month of April to help repatriate citizens back to Canada.
With files from Global News’ Phil Pang