Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is working with Air Canada and WestJet on repatriating Canadians that are stranded in destination by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Addressing the nation for the fourth day in a row on Thursday (March 19) from his home in Ottawa, Trudeau confirmed that he has spoken with the CEOs of both airlines to “work together to try and repatriate as many Canadians as possible on an emergency basis.”
Trudeau said he is working with the airlines to secure more flights back to Canada.
“It’s time for Canadians to come home from around the world. We recognize that will be a challenge,” Trudeau told reporters, noting that the government has received an “enormous number of requests” from Canadians around the world.
Both airlines have announced their intentions to work with the government.
"WestJet is fully behind our government’s efforts to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our people and will participate in the efforts to bring Canadians home as best we can...," read a statement issued by WestJet's communications department Wednesday night.
WestJet's last scheduled international commercial flight is Sunday, March 22nd, at 11:59 p.m., and it will be suspending its service for 30 days.
Air Canada is also gradually suspending its service as it moves to fly Canadians home.
"Our immediate focus is on ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees, customers and communities," Calin Rovinescu, president and chief executive of Air Canada, said in a statement.
Sunwing, also, has suspended southbound flights to focus on repatriation.
On Tuesday, their aircraft returned more than 500 Canadians home from Honduras, Aruba and Panama — countries that have started to close their borders.
The federal government said Wednesday it is working with cell providers, such as Bell, Rogers and Telus, to send texts to all customers roaming abroad with information on consular assistance.
“We want to help them,” Trudeau said, noting that Canada won’t cast judgement on people who have decided to stay abroad.
Canadians still stuck on ship
Trudeau didn’t have any details in regards to helping the 77 Canadians that are currently stuck on a trans-Atlantic cruise ship, the Costa Luminosa, where several cases of COVID-19 have spread among its passengers.
“I don’t have any updates on that,” Trudeau admitted, suggesting that further information may become available later in the day.
Thursday morning, it was reported that the Costa Luminosa, which is carrying 1,400 passengers, has docked in the French Mediterranean port city of Marseille.
French authorities are allowing the ship to stay for up to four days under strict conditions, reports say.
It is not yet clear if passengers will be allowed off.
Canada-U.S. border to close Friday night
Trudeau is currently half-way through his own self-isolation measures after his wife, Sophie, tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
On Wednesday, the PM confirmed plans to close the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel while still allowing essential traffic, such as trade, to cross.
The measure aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 was made in collaboration with U.S. President Donald Trump and is expected to take effect this Friday evening, or into the early hours of Saturday, Trudeau said.
“It’s almost there,” Trudeau said, saying the border would close "in about a day and a half.”
As of Thursday morning, there were 772 coronavirus cases in Canada, resulting in nine deaths.
Thursday’s press conference comes after a range of COVID-19 measures were introduced by the federal government this week, including closing Canada’s borders to most foreigners, restricting overseas flights to four international airports, and banning symptomatic passengers from boarding Canada-bound airplanes.
An $82 billion-dollar aid package was also unveiled to help Canadians amid the economic downturn, with $27 billion going towards supporting workers and businesses with $55-billion in tax deferrals to help businesses survive.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau told CBC News on Thursday that Canadians can expect emergency funds to arrive in two to three weeks.
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