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Canada to arrange ‘special’ flight out of Nepal amid coronavirus pandemic

Canadians stuck in Nepal look to federal government for help getting home
WATCH: (From March 30, 2020) Canadians stuck in Nepal look to federal government for help getting home

A repatriation flight for hundreds of Canadians stranded in Nepal during the COVID-19 pandemic is in the works, according to Global Affairs Canada.

“The High Commission of Canada to India is arranging for a special flight out of Nepal that is likely to take place in mid-next week,” Global Affairs spokesperson Krystyna Dodds said in an email Sunday.

READ MORE: Canadians stuck in Nepal left wondering how to return home during coronavirus pandemic

The department is aware that there are Canadians in Nepal seeking a return to Canada, she said. All travellers, she added, should register with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service and follow the government’s updates on social media.

“Specifically for Nepal, travelers should follow @CanadainNepal on Twitter,” Dodds wrote.

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That Twitter account had one update on Sunday for Canadian citizens and permanent residents stuck in Nepal: “Canadian Citizens/PR holders in Nepal: we continue to work on flight arrangements out of Kathmandu & appreciate your patience. Check ROCA messages & social media for updates.”

There are more than 378,000 Canadians currently registered as overseas, with 1,101 registered in Nepal, but there could be more since registration is voluntary.

Don McClymont from Edmonton told Global News his 27-year-old daughter was in Nepal trying to find her way back to Canada for the past week, when she and a friend finally found a seat on a U.S.-sponsored flight to Washington, D.C.

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Canadians stranded in Nepal due to COVID-19 pandemic
Canadians stranded in Nepal due to COVID-19 pandemic

“She didn’t think they’d get on it, I didn’t think they’d get on it,” he said Sunday.

“But then … she texted at midnight [on Saturday] with a picture of her on the airplane, saying they actually made it.”

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a call to overseas Canadians in mid-March, asking them to come home as soon as possible, as the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout the world.

READ MORE: Trudeau closes Canadian borders to most foreign travellers amid coronavirus outbreak

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“Let me be clear: if you are abroad, it’s time for you to come home,” Trudeau said on March 16.

At the same time, he also acknowledged that some Canadians would be unable to return from overseas, as borders around the world tightened in response to the growing crisis.

Nepal is under a nationwide lockdown until April 8. The lockdown means all air and long-distance vehicle transport is suspended, except for essential services. International flights are also banned till April 15.

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The landlocked country has reported only nine cases of COVID-19 as of April 5, with no deaths, but it has expressed concern that contagion will spread as more people travel.

McClymont said his daughter and her friend hope to catch a flight from D.C. to Toronto. Upon arrival, friends will bring them a vehicle so they can drive themselves back to Kingston, where they will self-isolate for 14 days.

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READ MORE: Ontario woman treks to Everest base camp, now stranded in Nepal due to coronavirus pandemic

The frustrating part for his family has been not knowing when repatriation flights from Nepal would ever materialize.

“I think the real frustration too was seeing these other repatriation flights were coming in, but nothing from Canada,” he said.

The same frustrations were echoed in late March by two Canadians stranded in Nepal. One of them, Carl Kouri from Montreal, had even launched a Change.org petition calling on the federal government to do more to repatriate Canadians in the country.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Canadian health-care services shift online amid COVID-19

As of Sunday, he said he was in Kathmandu, waiting for a government-organized flight home.

A Global Affairs email sent to Kouri indicates the department plans on scheduling only one flight out of Nepal. It also said the likely cost of a repatriation flight will be “slightly more than the cost of the flights that we are currently arranging for Canadians in India, which is approximately $3,000 Canadian dollars.”

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While Kouri says he is willing to pay that much to get home, he wonders how a family, for instance, might foot that bill.

“I’m very much worried” about that, he said.

Kouri said he’s also concerned for people with pre-existing conditions: “Are we prioritizing those who are vulnerable?”

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The Associated Press reported that U.S. citizens and permanent residents boarded a flight out of Kathmandu in what was likely their last chance to head home as Nepal prepares to extend lockdown measures.

Sunday’s flight with 303 passengers on board was the second one arranged by the U.S. embassy but paid for by the passengers. The Qatar Airways jet is scheduled to land at Washington D.C. with a fuel stop at Doha.

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— With files by Reuters, The Associated Press