Trudeau says government will do all it can to help stranded Canadians, but concedes some will remain trapped

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is doing all it can to help bring home Canadians who are stranded abroad due to COVID-19 travel clampdowns, but conceded it won't be able to help everyone.

Government helping organize commercial flights to bring people home from Morocco, Peru and Spain

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government will do all it can to help Canadians stranded abroad, but acknowledged that some people won't be able to come home right now. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is doing all it can to help bring home Canadians who are stranded abroad due to COVID-19 travel clampdowns, but conceded it won't be able to help everyone.

The global pandemic has led to closed airspace and travel restrictions around the world, making it difficult for people trying to get home.

"It is an extremely difficult situation, but the lockdowns in various countries, the limits on travel, the logistical capacities of our airlines means that we are unlikely to be able to bring everyone home," he said during a news conference outside his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa Saturday.

"So we're going to ask people to stay safe, to make smart choices, and do the best they can in a situation that is unprecedented, exceptional and very difficult."

The government has facilitated a flight to bring Canadians home from Morocco today. That flight is expected to arrive in Montreal this evening. 

The government is also working to help organize flights to bring home Canadians trapped in Peru and Spain, and flights from other countries are expected as well.

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As flight and travel restrictions ramp up around the world, some governments in Canada are imposing their own rules.

The Northwest Territories, which just confirmed its first case Saturday, is banning travel into the region to try to prevent infections of COVID-19.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier Dwight Ball said anyone who has travelled outside the province — whether within Canada or internationally — will be required to quarantine for 14 days.

P.E.I.'s chief public health officer announced similar rules today.

PM urges Canadians to stay home

Asked if the federal government will move to restrict travel within Canada, Trudeau said the message already is for everyone to avoid going to see neighbours, whether they are in the U.S. or other provinces. He urged people to self-isolate to protect themselves, and the health-care system and its workers.

"We're asking people to stay home as much as possible, to avoid non-essential travel," he said.

Calling it a "live issue" with federal and provincial governments, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said she understands why some provinces want to take steps to stop the spread of infection beyond "hot spots."

"We do believe there's some value in regional containment, but we also want to do it in a way that doesn't disrupt our domestic supply chains, domestic needs to get goods and services from one part of the country to another," she said during a news conference in Ottawa.

Hajdu stressed the importance of measures such as social distancing and self-isolation, and said officials will have a better sense of how well they are working to slow the spread of COVID-19 in seven to 10 days. But she said stronger measures such as widespread quarantines are not warranted based on the current scientific evidence.

"It doesn't make sense to put an entire country under lockdown if we don't have the need to do so from a science perspective," she said.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Howard Njoo said it's vital to maintain a supply of goods and services across the country and every Canadian has a role to play in what can be compared to a war-time effort.

"I think at the end of the day, we're all Canadians. We're not Ontarians or Quebecers, we're all on the same team, Team Canada," he said.

Flights to bring home stranded travellers will prioritize people who are Canadian citizens, permanent residents of Canada, or immediate family members of Canadian citizens. Only people who show no signs of symptoms will be allowed to board, and all passengers will be told to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in Canada.

The government is working with Air Canada and other airlines to assess needs and ensure that stranded Canadians can get home at a reasonable commercial price for their ticket.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said at today's news conference that "tens of thousands" of Canadians are registered abroad. Some want to come home, and others prefer to stay put, he said. He said the government will do what it can to help people get home, and the rest will be provided consular services.

"We will continue to support Canadians the best way we can," he said.

Champagne said Canadians who do want to get home should be making arrangements as quickly as possible because commercial options are becoming fewer and fewer. He also reminded travellers that the government has established a new emergency loan program where people can access up to $5,000 for a ticket or accommodations due to a price spike or an extended stay due to travel restrictions.

On Twitter this morning, Champagne said he has had conversations with his counterparts in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Morocco, Peru and Turkey about "plans to facilitate the return home of nationals."

Champagne said he has been given reassurance from Peru that a Canadian flight would be allowed to bring people back home, even though the Peruvian defence minister said Saturday would be the last day the country allows foreign 

There are 4,300 Canadians registered in Peru with Global Affairs Canada, though not all of them want to travel.

The government is helping to cover some of the costs for these flights, but passengers are expected to pay a reasonable commercial price.

With files from the CBC's Vassy Kapelos

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