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Coronavirus: Canada working with commercial airlines to repatriate stranded citizens

Ottawa working with airlines to repatriate Cdns; first COVID-19 case in NWT
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is working with airlines to repatriate Canadians scrambling to return home amid travel restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the government of the Northwest Territories has reported its first case of COVID-19, shortly after prohibiting all non-essential travel through its territorial borders. David Akin reports.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday announced the government of Canada is working with commercial airlines to repatriate Canadians stranded abroad over the coronavirus pandemic.

Trudeau said several considerations are being made, including the closure of airspace, the local situation and the number of Canadians stranded in each country.

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. land border closes to all non-essential travel

He said the government is looking into coordinating flights to Spain and Peru, and will announce additional countries as soon as possible.

According to Trudeau, the government will not be able to help everyone, but they will help as many as possible.

“We’re working with Canadian Airlines to make commercial flights available for as many Canadians who are stranded as possible,” Trudeau said. “We will also be working with other countries to ensure that our airlines have the permissions and other supports necessary to fly.”

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Trudeau made the comments in a rare Saturday address from Rideau Cottage where he is currently in self-isolation.

Coronavirus outbreak: Canada working with commercial airlines to repatriate stranded citizens
Coronavirus outbreak: Canada working with commercial airlines to repatriate stranded citizens

Trudeau said those seeking assistance should register online with Global Affairs Canada.

He said he expects Canadians returning home to pay a “responsible ticket price,” but that the government will cover additional costs.

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He added, though, that anyone who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed to board a flight to Canada, and that anyone who is repatriated will need to self-isolate for 14-days.

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At midnight on Friday the land border between Canada and the U.S. was closed to all non-essential travel in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

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The border remains open for essential travel, which includes the transportation of goods and travel for work, so as not to hamper trade and the supply chains between the two countries.

On Monday Trudeau announced the rest of Canada’s borders would be closed to most foreign travellers, excepting only air crews, diplomats and immediate family members of Canadian citizens. Those restrictions were put into effect on Wednesday.

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The government has also ordered all international flights to be funnelled through only four Canadian airports — Toronto‘s Pearson International Airport, Vancouver International Airport, Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport and Calgary International Airport.

Trudeau urged Canadians travelling abroad to return to Canada, saying “it’s time to come home.”

In order to help Canadians abroad, the federal government has also made available loans totalling $5,000 per person which can be used for flights and accommodations.

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Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said over the last several days he has spoken with his counterparts in 15 countries to coordinate efforts to repatriate Canadian citizens.

According to Champagne, the first flight from Casablanca, Morocco is scheduled to land in Montreal this evening.

However, Champagne echoed Trudeau’s remarks, saying the government will not be able to repatriate all citizens.

READ MORE: Live updates — Coronavirus in Canada

“We are doing everything in our power to bring the largest number of Canadians home,” he said.

He said officials are working “around the clock” to try to resolve the “complex” and “unprecedented” situation.

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“Countries impose new flight restrictions, security control are enhanced at airports,” he said. “We understand why other countries do this because we have done so as well to limit the spread of the virus, to protect you and every other Canadian.”

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Champagne said in the last several days, Global Affairs Canada has reached out to “hundreds of thousands” of Canadians abroad.

He also urged Canada’s snowbirds to return home as soon as possible as flights are becoming “scarce.”

But, Champagne said the border will always remain open for them to return to Canada.