Canadians scrambling to get home as border closures become a possibility

WatchDozens of countries are cancelling international flights or shutting down their borders in a bid to stop the global march of COVID-19. Now, as discussions about Canada shutting down its own border begin, Canadians abroad are concerned they may get stuck. Jasmine Bala has more

Federal officials are urging Canadians who are travelling abroad to return home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told CTV’s Question Period this morning that border closures or mandatory screening of all returning travellers are part of the ongoing COVID-19 discussions.

“We are not taking anything off the table,” he said. “We are looking daily at next steps that we might take or we should take and those conversations continue.”

The government signalled to Canadians abroad on Saturday that they need to come home or risk getting stuck in the dozens of countries now cancelling international flights and shutting down borders in a bid to stop the rampant global march of the virus.

François-Philippe Champagne, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted, “We recommend that Canadian travellers return to Canada via commercial means while they remain available,” on Saturday.

Some travellers are worried about what that means, including one of CHEK’s own reporters, Tess van Straaten, who is on a trip to the U.S.

“When we left everything was fine,” she said. “We were in the air about to land in Los Angeles when they issued the travel warning, so we landed to all of these text messages from friends and families and emails saying, ‘oh my god, they said you shouldn’t leave the country.'”

Now, like thousands of Canadians in the same situation, van Straaten is cutting her vacation short.

“We need to get home because what if they close the border? What if commercial flights are cancelled? Are we going to be stuck in the U.S. for weeks or months?” she said.

A travel agency on the Island, Departures Travel, is reminding those abroad to stay calm and reach out.

“Don’t panic. Stay calm,” said Cathy Larsen, co-owner of Departures Travel. “We’re doing the best that we can. Nobody wants to have people stranded anywhere, so I think everybody will work collectively to assist people to get home.”

Larsen said people that are travelling outside of the country should register themselves as “Canadians Abroad” on the government’s travel website and contact the agencies they booked with for assistance. Canadians who booked their trips themselves, she said, can still get help by checking into local travel agencies.

Meanwhile, the Victoria International Airport is looking empty these days, as the number of travellers declines rapidly.

“In the last couple of days, our passenger numbers are declining,” said Rod Hunchak, the airport’s director of business development. “What we notice as well is there are people in the terminal building going to the various air carriers looking to cancel or make adjustments to their travel plans.”

With files from Canadian Press

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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