The federal government has helped to bring back about 20,000 Canadians who were stranded around the world due to pandemic travel restrictions — but many Canadians abroad are still pleading for help to get home.
Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said the repatriation process — which he described as the largest and most complex operation of its kind ever in Canada — is now about 75 to 80 per cent complete.
Oliphant, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and hundreds of emergency response staff have been working for weeks on consular cases that demand both diplomacy and nimble logistics. To date, more than 160 flights have been organized to bring Canadians home from 76 countries.
Oliphant said he could not offer a timeframe for getting the rest of the travellers home because the remaining cases will be among the trickiest to resolve.
“We’re getting there, but the last part is tough,” he said.
Many of the Canadians still stuck abroad are in small groups in isolated locations. They include people on private boats who aren’t allowed into port and those on various islands in the South Pacific and off South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
“We had to have sweeper flights pick up people on dozens and dozens of islands to get them to Manila. The government had closed all transit between islands, among islands, so we had to get special permission to get Philippine Airlines to pick them up,” Oliphant said.
One such flight carried passengers from 13 different locations.
Canada is working with allies to arrange flights. The partnering countries are engaging in “seat swapping,” where one country offers seats on one flight in exchange for seats on another.
Lockdowns present internal transit challenge
With global travel essentially shut down and many countries in partial lockdown due to the pandemic (or, like Peru, under martial law), even helping people get to the airport can be a challenge.
“They need to register. We need to have the name of the driver, the vehicle licence number to get permits and they have to be issued by the government of Canada, the High Commission,” Oliphant said. “And they may or may not be accepted by local authorities. So it’s hugely labour intensive.”
Canada is also required to get special permission to land aircraft in countries where the airspace has been shut down.
Oliphant said India has presented the biggest challenge in terms of sheer numbers, with a total of 24 flights that have either arrived or are being arranged.
More than 5,000 Canadians were on 130 cruise ships when the COVID-19 crisis began. Most of them are now home.
Despite the government’s efforts to bring people home, many Canadians remain stranded.
Eduardo Garay of Toronto says he is worried and frustrated because his mother, brother and sister-in-law are trapped in Colombia.
At 87 years old, he said, his mother is too frail to make the eight-hour drive from Medellin to the airport in Bogota.
He said he hopes internal flights can be arranged to pick them up.
“We understand the logistical nightmare it is to make several stops in the country, but Colombia has cooperated with Canada,” Garay said. “It has a very strong, good relationship and that might be an opportunity for an international flight to pick up Canadians stranded in different parts of Colombia.”
He suggested a “two-way initiative” which could see flights returning Canadians home from Colombia, making several regional stops and then taking Colombians home from Canada.
He said he is personally aware of about 217 Canadians who want to leave Colombia and about 200 Colombians in Canada, mostly students, who want to go home.
Rick Green, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, has been trapped in a small motel room in Tobago since he had to leave a vacation resort on March 27.
With complex PTSD from his time in the army, Green said he needs weekly therapy sessions and a regimented exercise program to manage his stress and anxiety.
Now he can’t even go for a walk, as police are ordering everyone to stay inside.
“We are now in total lockdown except to go to the grocery store or pharmacy,” he wrote in an email.
He said he and his wife were offered seats on a flight from Trinidad to Toronto but they were unable to get to that airport from Tobago.
Health issues, financial stress
Along with his health issues, he has to cope with the financial stress of having to pay for food and rent in Tobago while the bills continue to pile up back home in High River, Alta.
Most of the companies he has contacted asking for temporary relief have not been helpful.
“I served my country and gave it my all, leading to physical and psychological injuries. And what do I get in return? Not much,” he said.
Green said the one positive thing in this ordeal is the fact that there have been only four confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the island, with only one case now active.
Canadians who show symptoms of COVID-19 are not permitted to board any government-facilitated flight to Canada. Passengers are required to mask while on board and are legally required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival home.
COVID-19 has Canada’s banks worried about sickly loans
If Canada’s big banks are the canary in the coal mine for the economy as a whole, then there was some good news this week, and some less good news.
While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on Canadian society, Canada’s five biggest lenders — Royal Bank, Bank of Montreal, Scotiabank, CIBC and TD — remained profitable even as they set aside billions of dollars to offset possible losses from loans that might go bad in the coming months.
It was expected that measures to contain the pandemic, such as school and business closures, border shutdowns and travel restrictions, would grind economic activity to a halt, but the banks’ quarterly financial results for the three-month period up to April 30 were hotly anticipated because they are a deep dive into just how bad the economy was really doing.
If businesses like manufacturers, oil and gas companies, retailers and tech startups are having trouble paying their bills, that tends to show up at the big banks, which lend them money.
Analysts say one of the best ways of gauging how companies are doing is by paying attention to a banking metric known as loan loss provisions. That’s a complicated-sounding term for a fundamentally simple concept: how much banks set aside to pay for loans on their books they think might not get paid back.
Not all those loans will turn into losses. But paying attention to how much the banks are setting aside just in case is an excellent proxy for how worried they are.
Combined, Canada’s big five lenders set aside almost $11 billion last quarter to cover loans that aren’t currently being paid off as planned. That’s almost five times as much as they had set aside for bad loans in the same three-month period last year.
That’s the bad news. The good news? “They were bad, but not as bad as feared,” said Jim Shanahan, an analyst with investment firm Edward Jones who covers Canada’s big banks.
Considering the massive number of layoffs, business closures and the glacial pace of trade flows across the Canada-U.S. border due to COVID-19, there were fears that loan losses could have been “at levels that we would never have contemplated,” Shanahan said.
But that didn’t happen.
It’s equally important to note that even in all this, the banks are still making money. Collectively, the banks raked in nearly $5 billion in profits over the three months. That’s well below their usual pace, but Shanahan said there was “almost a collective sigh of relief” that the banks were still profitable.
Art Johnson, the founder of Calgary-based SmartBe Wealth, is one of the few money managers in Canada who doesn’t think shares in Canadian bank stocks are always worth buying, but even he admits their week went a lot better than it could have gone.
“When I look at the numbers, they’re bad,” he said in an interview. “There’s no two ways around it, these numbers are bad, [but] markets don’t look at bad or good, they look at better or worse.”
That explains what the banks’ stock prices did this week. Typically lower profits would have sent bank shares tumbling, but shares in all five were sharply up as investors breathed that sigh of relief that Shanahan was talking about.
“People were expecting a lot worse, and they were better than worse in all facets,” Johnson said.
Not out of the woods yet
While he understands why the bank stocks rallied with relief, Johnson thinks that exhale may be premature as the real pain in the economy may not show up on the banks’ books for another few months, once mortgage payment deferrals run out, and massive government progams supplementing income to laid-off workers expire.
“We’ll start to see the real impact of this three [or] four months down the road, and that’ll be where … it’ll be interesting for markets,” he said.
One of the best ways of gauging how optimistic the banks are about their future is to look at their dividend payments.
Canada’s big banks are known as reliable dividend-paying machines, slowly and methodically nudging up their payments to shareholders every few quarters for more than a century. Those big bank dividends are so rock-solid that TD and Scotiabank somehow managed to hike theirs even in the middle of the financial crisis in 2009.
The banks love to hike their dividends because investors love that extra income. But banks won’t do it unless they are confident they’ll be able to sustain the higher level in perpetuity — a harsh lesson that Quebec-focused bank Laurentian learned this week when it cut its payout, the first dividend slash by a Canadian lender that big in almost 30 years.
If dividend payouts are the best barometer of the financial health of Canada’s big banks — and, by extension, the economy — then the fact that none of them saw the need to cut this time around is an encouraging sign.
Those quarterly payouts look as rock-solid as ever, but even the banks admit the future still looks uncertain.
The CEO of National Bank, a distant sixth in the five-horse race atop Canadian banking, phrased it in a, well, enterprising fashion.
“This is Star Trek finance,” Louis Vachon said on a conference call with analysts to discuss the bank’s quarter, in which it booked one-third less profit and set aside five times more money for bad loans.
“We would describe the current environment as going where no one has gone before.”
Canada’s economy has managed to live long and prosper for decades on the backs of its biggest lenders, but Vachon makes it clear that those same banks are still keeping their shields up for now.
“We’re still watching for the Klingons [because] we’re not out of this crisis yet.”
Edited BY Harry Miller
Planning a Canadian vacation? Some provinces may be off limits. Here's what you need to know – CBC.ca
This summer, many Canadians may choose to explore their own country due to closed borders and concerns about contracting COVID-19 while travelling abroad.
“People will be sticking closer to home, going out in the cars because they [have] control. It’s their bubble,” said Allison Wallace, spokesperson for travel agency Flight Centre.
But before hitting the road or booking a flight, it’s important to first check the rules of the province you want to visit.
Currently, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the territories are banning visitors from other provinces.
Provinces in the rest of Canada are advising against non-essential travel, but their borders are still open to Canadian travellers.
Visitors to Manitoba and Nova Scotia, however, will first have to self-isolate for 14-days — a rule that’s likely to keep many people away.
Staying close to home safest bet
Provinces may ease — or tighten — their travel rules this summer, depending on their COVID-19 numbers, so it’s also important to stay up-to-date on your desired destination.
“Everybody is navigating this differently based on the situation they have locally, so we may see some provinces move at a different pace than others,” said Elliott Silverstein with CAA Insurance. The CAA — the Canadian Automobile Association — provides both auto and travel services.
And if the current restrictions and advisories remain, your safest bet this summer may be to stay close to home.
“If these barriers — if they’re not removed — it will effectively lead people … to travel within your own province,” said Silverstein.
The current travel rules for each province are listed below. Note that Canadians entering any province from another country must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
N.B., N.L. and P.E.I.
In New Brunswick and P.E.I., peace officers stationed at land border crossings are authorized to turn travellers away if they attempt to enter.
“It goes against Islanders’ nature to not welcome visitors to the province, but it is what is needed at this time,” said P.E.I. government spokesperson Vickie Tse in an email.
However, the island is set to make an exception for some out-of-towners: Canadians with seasonal properties on P.E.I. can request entry by submitting an application on June 1. Those who get approval will be allowed to drive through New Brunswick to get to P.E.I.
New Brunswick may also let in cottage owners from other provinces sometime this summer.
Provinces shutting their borders to fellow Canadians has raised concerns from both legal experts and some travellers.
Kim Taylor of Halifax was devastated when Newfoundland and Labrador refused her request earlier this month to attend her mother’s funeral in the province. She was allowed in 11 days later — after speaking publicly about her case.
Last week, Taylor and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched a court challenge against Newfoundland and Labrador, alleging its border ban is unconstitutional.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government told CBC News it couldn’t comment on a case before the courts.
WATCH | Travel bubbles considered for regions with low COVID-19 cases:
Residents in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I. can visit other parts of Canada, but must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return — a high price to pay for an out-of-province vacation.
Residents may also pay a high price if they break the rules. A New Brunswick doctor recently travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, didn’t self-isolate when he returned and wound up infecting at least eight other New Brunswickers with COVID-19. He has since been suspended from practising in the province.
Man. and N.S.
Anyone visiting Manitoba or Nova Scotia — or returning from a trip to another province — must self-isolate for 14 days. Travellers driving through Manitoba are asked to stop only when necessary to access essential services.
Manitoba has also banned non-essential travel to its northern and remote regions to help prevent the COVID-19 spread in the province.
Alta., B.C., Ont., Que. and Sask.
Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan aren’t banning travellers from other provinces or mandating that they self-isolate for 14 days. However, they all advise against non-essential travel at this time.
Don’t cross the border. We love our Quebec neighbours, but just wait until this is all over.– Ontario Premier Doug Ford
“Don’t cross the border. We love our Quebec neighbours, but just wait until this is all over,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated earlier this month when asked about Quebecers visiting Ontario.
If you do decide to visit Alberta, B.C. or Saskatchewan, don’t plan on pitching a tent at a provincially run campground; until further notice, their campsites will only be available to residents in their province.
Quebec and Saskatchewan have also restricted non-essential travel to certain remote northern regions in their province as a precautionary measure during the pandemic.
Anyone entering Saskatchewan from another part of Canada is advised to self-monitor their health for 14 days and to self-isolate at the first sign of any COVID-19 symptoms.
What about the territories?
Canada surpasses 7,000 coronavirus deaths – CKNW News Talk 980
The coronavirus pandemic has now claimed more than 7,000 lives in Canada.
The number of fatalities reached 7,073 on Saturday, after Quebec released its latest figures.
The province announced 76 deaths, along with 419 new cases of the virus.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has infected more than 90,000 people in Canada, with a little more than half of the cases diagnosed in Quebec. Nearly 1.7 million Canadians have been tested for the virus.
Public health officials have said that most of Canada’s deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities.
The Canadian Forces deployed members to Ontario and Quebec in order to help care for residents last month. The soldiers recently sounded the alarm over poor conditions in some homes.
Despite increasing death tolls and case counts, the rate of infection appears to be slowing in most provinces, and many have taken gradual steps toward reopening in recent weeks.
The new coronavirus was formally identified in January after Wuhan, China, saw a cluster of pneumonia cases that were not associated with any known virus. The illness caused by the virus was later dubbed COVID-19.
COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11.
The disease has wrought havoc on economies around the world and prompted widespread shutdowns of non-essential businesses, schools and workplaces.
Coronavirus outbreak: United States officially passes 100,000 COVID-19 deaths
Earlier this week, the U.S. exceeded 100,000 deaths due to the pandemic. And overall, more than 5.9 million people around the world have been diagnosed, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The global death toll stands at more than 365,000.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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