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Panic sets in for Canadians stranded in Guatemala by pandemic – CBC.ca

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The government of Canada offered the promise of evacuation today to two thousand Canadians stranded in Guatemala. But many of those Canadians say they’re becoming more and more alarmed as time passes without word on when they’ll be allowed to leave.

The Central American nation imposed a sweeping border and airport closure on March 16, stopping all flights in and out. Hilda Rossi, a Guatemalan-born humanitarian aid worker who has lived in Canada for more than 50 years, was due to return to Canada on March 18 and now finds herself stranded.

“It’s like being in a prison,” she said, describing the strict lockdown in the country. She is staying with her 87-year-old sister in Colonia Primero de Julio, a suburb of Guatemala’s capital. “I am really desperate to get home.”

Meds run out

Oakville resident Rossi is president and founder of the aid organization Canadian Central American Relief Effort, which has worked for several years in Guatemala’s impoverished Merendon mountains.

She said she is relieved that a group of 18 Canadian and American volunteers who came to work in the country this year have been able to get out. But Rossi, who is 73, has no idea when she will be leaving herself.

She takes thyroid medication, which has run out, and she has an 82-year-old husband waiting for her at home.

She said the Canadian Embassy gave her two suggestions. The first was that she take a bus to the Mexican border and then try to get a second bus to Mexico City. The second option was a much shorter bus trip (14 hours) to Belize, but went through a particularly dangerous corner of Central America.

Rossi said that, given her health, she did not feel able to do either.

‘Largest repatriation effort … in peacetime’

A total of 1,998 Canadians have registered with the embassy in Guatemala, and there are almost equally large contingents in Honduras and El Salvador.

Hilda Rossi, seen here in a family photo with her 82-year-old husband Riccardo Rossi, says she was due to return to Canada from Guatemala last week and now finds herself stranded. (Submitted by Melody Johnson)

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that some will soon be coming home.

“We’ve also helped secure an Air Canada flight from Spain, as well as Air Transat flights, including two from Honduras, and one each from El Salvador and Guatemala. If you’re a Canadian abroad, register with the government now so we can send you updates and contact you.

“You need to do this if you haven’t done it already.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is working with airlines to try and get Canadians who are stuck abroad home.  0:50

Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told CBC News this morning that his department had fielded 10,000 calls and 14,000 emails in the previous 48 hours, adding that this was “probably the largest repatriation effort in Canada’s history in peacetime.”

“This scale and the complexity that we’re facing has never been seen before,” said Champagne. “This is a book yet to be written because no one has ever seen anything like that, where you have all these things at the same time, and you’re trying to bring people back to Canada.”

Stranded with a sick baby

Shy-Anne Hickey and her boyfriend of nine years Yan Durand left Montreal on February 24 for a month-long backpacking trip in Guatemala. They brought with them their 8-month-old baby daughter Aly-Rose.

“Little did we know our trip would spin into a nightmare three days before our departure back home to Canada,” she told CBC News, saying the couple “were in a state of panic” after the country’s government decreed the closure of the border and also banned all public transportation.

“We contacted Delta airlines, who at that time cancelled our flight home. They couldn’t help, except tell us that in 21 business days we will get an email with a partial refund.

“We contacted our travel insurance, who referred us to the Canadian Embassy. They couldn’t help either. The SOS email they keep talking about on all the news channels responded with an automated email due to high volume.”

Shy-Anne Hickey, seen here with her partner Yan Durand and their daughter Aly-Rose, says they “were in a state of panic” after Guatemala’s government decreed the closure of the border and also banned all public transportation. (Submitted by Shy-Anne Hickey)

The couple was able to persuade the host of an Airbnb property where they had stayed to allow them to return. That meant a trip by Uber to the village of San Pedro la Laguna, in violation of the country’s ban on transporting tourists.

Hickey said she was appalled to see a police roadblock at the entrance to the village.

“Looking down at my daughter, who was sound asleep in my arms, for the first time in my life I was scared of what could happen.”

On village lockdown

Their Uber driver was able to talk his way through the blockade, and now the couple are in a village where there is a 4 pm to 4 am curfew, with 30-day jail terms for those who violate it. The ban on intercity travel remains in place, making it unclear how the three Canadians would even reach the airport in Guatemala City.

“We are terrified that one of us will get sick, even with all the precautions and isolation. Medical services are very limited in this part of the country. Our daughter was hospitalized various times due to lung issues, so we are terrified. We just want to get back to Canada.”

Hickey said that the baby girl is now sick.

Her sister Lacey Hickey, who is also her neighbour in Bois-Des-Fillion, Quebec, said the family is desperate. They tried to book seats on a flight last week at a cost of $6,000, but were told it was full.

“We’ve asked her if money could help, but she says no, money is not the problem,” said Lacey.

A man wearing a face mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus walks near a bus station in Guatemala City, Thursday, March 19, 2020. As part of emergency measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guatemalan government has restricted public transportation. (Moises Castillo/The Associated Press)

Shy-Anne Hickey said she is now full of regrets and doubts.

“I’m sitting here in my bed, tears rolling down my cheek, looking at my eight-month daughter, who doesn’t have a clue.

“How did I not know to protect you more? How did I not know to go home earlier? How did the president of Guatemala not let us leave and bring you to safety …

“Since March 16th, I feel like a prisoner of my own decisions. It is rare to find food. Markets are closed. Groceries stores are empty … We are living off rice, eggs, pasta and bread.”

More people than seats

Although Guatemala has approved one evacuation flight, neither Air Transat nor any other airline in the world has a plane that could accommodate even half of the Canadians looking to return.

Passengers waits for a charter flight coordinated by the U.S. embassy at La Aurora airport in Guatemala City, Monday, March 23, 2020. (Moises Castillo/The Associated Press)

Air Transat’s largest Airbus A330s can only handle 363 passengers.

If those are used for the three Central American evacuations, the flights already authorized by the three local governments could bring out only 1,452 of the 5,264 Canadians who are present in the three countries and who have registered with the Canadian Embassy.

The Central American governments would have to approve about a dozen more flights to be able to bring out all Canadians who have registered with the embassy.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne says there are unprecedented consular challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and he’s negotiating one-to-one with jurisdictions where there are no inbound or outbound flights to bring Canadians home. 3:39

Today, Champagne acknowledged that it will be difficult to get everyone out.

“It’s almost like a chess game. Every time that something is closed we need to find a way to bring our people [home] and that’s what we’re doing on a 24-hour, seven days basis,” he said.

About one million Canadians have made it back to the country since borders began to close around the world — approximately half of them from the United States.

“But we have to admit that there will be Canadians who won’t be able to come back home and we’ll do our utmost to support them wherever they might be,” said Champagne.

Both the Rossi and the Hickey families say they remain unclear about the basic facts of the repatriation flights — when they are, how they will know if they have seats, and how they are supposed to get to an airport that is officially closed in the middle of a transportation freeze.

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How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting food security in Canada – Global News

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As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across Canada, officials are struggling to provide aid to those who have been impacted by the pandemic.

And experts say organizations tasked with combating food insecurity are already feeling the strain as more and more people seek assistance. 

How is the COVID-19 affecting those experiencing food insecurity? Are more people going to become food insecure?

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Here’s a look at what’s going on.

How many people are food insecure in Canada?

A study released earlier this month from PROOF, an interdisciplinary research program investigating household food insecurity in Canada, found that one in eight households across the country is food insecure.

“This represents 4.4 million people, the largest number recorded since Canada began monitoring food insecurity,” the report said.

The report added this number — reflective of 103,500 households from Statistics Canada’s 2017-18 Canadian Community Health Survey — is an underestimate, as it did not include people living on First Nations reserves, some remote northern areas, or the homeless.


READ MORE:
Here’s how the COVID-19 curve could look with social distancing, testing

The report also found that 17 per cent of children under the age of 18 — more than one in six — live in a family experiencing food insecurity.

Gisèle Yasmeen, executive director at Food Secure Canada, said even before the coronavirus outbreak, food insecurity in Canada was already “trending in the wrong direction.”

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“The urgency, or the concern, is that a situation that was already concerning in a wealthy country like Canada is getting worse as a result of this crisis,” she said.

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How will COVID-19 affect food insecurity in Canada?

Nick Saul, CEO of Community Food Centres Canada, said many who were already food insecure are considered “very precariously employed.”

“Not enough hours, not enough benefits, only one salary carrying a whole family, and that salary just doesn’t pay enough,” he explained. “So when you have something like COVID, hit in the midst of that stress and uncertainty and anxiety, those ranks are only going to grow.”

While COVID-19 continues to spread in Canada, provincial governments have ordered non-essential businesses to close, forcing mass lay-offs.

As a result, since mid-March more than one million Canadians have applied for unemployment insurance.






1:17
Alberta’s food supply chain remains strong, officials say no need to panic buy


Alberta’s food supply chain remains strong, officials say no need to panic buy

Saul said this means more people will be accessing assistance at more than 200 locations across the country. 

“All of those people are going to be very worried about their food. So more and more people coming to the community, food centres, the good food organizations that we run across this country,” he said. “So it’s going to be busy and the stress will be high.”

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Saul added centres are already seeing an increase in demand.

“I can absolutely tell you that more and more people are showing up at the doors of those centres,” he said. “And that’s a significant concern.”


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But, Saul said these organizations don’t have the capacity to deal with the surge, saying that even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the charitable sector was “not coming close” to addressing the need.

“Many of us who are on the frontlines of this were saying we need to increase minimum wages, we need to build more affordable housing,” he said. 

“So now there is a new wave of people who are joining those ranks and the numbers are just going to continue to grow.”






3:11
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says COVID-19 response is Canada’s biggest since WWII


Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says COVID-19 response is Canada’s biggest since WWII

Saul said the COVID-19 pandemic is putting extra strain on those who were already food insecure before the outbreak.

He explained those receiving social assistance already have difficulty navigating food, shelter and transportation, without the extra stress of a pandemic.

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“And that’s a deep concern that, as a society, we have to face up to and do better going forward,” he said. 


READ MORE:
How long will coronavirus measures last in Canada? Experts say June or July

An ‘opening for transformative change’

The federal government announced last month it would spend up to $82 billion to support Canadians affected by COVID-19, including $55 billion to meet the liquidity needs of Canadian businesses and households through tax deferrals. The total amount of support was later increased to $107 billion.

The government has also said all companies will get 75 per cent of salaries covered, if they’ve lost 30 per cent of their revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.






0:48
Coronavirus outbreak: Is Trudeau considering a national policy on rent forgiveness?


Coronavirus outbreak: Is Trudeau considering a national policy on rent forgiveness?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said business of all sizes, charities and non-profits are eligible for the emergency wage subsidy. Trudeau also urged Canadians to continue to donate to charitable organizations amid the pandemic so they can continue to operate.


READ MORE:
‘It’s critical’: More than 200 charities call on feds for funding amid COVID-19

Saul said he is glad the government is working to provide support to businesses to keep people employed, adding that he hopes the money is disseminated quickly.

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“The government has responded as well on the emergency side, flowing money out to our sector,” he said. “So that’s good, that’s really good and important.”

Saul said the economic measures announced by the government are “really important medium-term responses,” but said once the pandemic is over, “we have to get back to talking about the structural inequalities that exist in our society because they were massive and they’ve only been exacerbated by the current COVID crisis.”






1:48
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau asks Canadians to be ‘part of the solution’


Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau asks Canadians to be ‘part of the solution’

Yasmeen echoed Saul’s remarks, saying Canada needs to address the urgent crisis, but that the situation should also be used as an “opening for transformative change.”

She said they have been calling for a “more integrated, better social safety net” and for a universal basic income in Canada in order to address food insecurity.

“We have a patchwork of social programs, both federally, provincially, etc.,” she said. “So it’s really time to not just invest in an emergency type way, but transform our system so that we don’t have these people falling through the cracks.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Coronavirus has ‘unprecedented’ number of Canadians making a will – Global News

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More Canadians are thinking of end-of-life planning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of Canadians making wills and signing powers of attorney has spiked in the past two weeks, according to companies that help with the process.

For Willful, a service that allows Canadians to create their own legal documents online, sales since March 16 have been 160 per cent higher than they were in the first two weeks of the month. Traffic to the website went up 80 per cent over the same time period.


READ MORE:
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Erin Bury, the CEO of Willful, explained the pandemic has a lot of people thinking about their emergency plans — or lack of.

“When we’re faced with something like a pandemic, obviously it causes people to think more about their own mortality plans,” she told Global News.

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She noted the increase in usage may also be because many Canadians are at home and aren’t able to visit lawyers to draft wills in person.

“They have more time to get to those tasks that might have fallen to the bottom of the list previously,” she added.






1:34
Expert says people should include digital assets in their wills


Expert says people should include digital assets in their wills

Bury noted, however, that even wills created online must be printed and signed by two witnesses to be legally binding.

A similar uptick in usage is occurring at another online legal document creation company called Canadian Legal Wills.

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Tim Hewson, the co-founder and president of the company, said the rise in demand has been “unprecedented” across the company’s operations in Canada, United States and the United Kingdom.

Hewson noted the company generally sees increases around the beginning of the year and then during tax season — but that’s “nothing” compared to traffic amid the pandemic.


READ MORE:
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“We’re seeing probably three to four times the normal traffic,” he said. “This is absolutely unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like this kind of interest in will writing.”

Both companies found that Canadians on the website are looking for more than wills — they’re also filling out powers of attorney.

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“A power of attorney comes into effect when you’re still alive, but you are unable to communicate, maybe you’re in an accident or you are incapacitated,” Bury said. “That appoints someone who can pay your bills and make medical decisions on your behalf.”

Bury noted that powers of attorney are important for any Canadian adult, whether they’re young or older.






6:40
Navigating rent and loans during the COVID-19 outbreak


Navigating rent and loans during the COVID-19 outbreak

The same applies for wills, Hewson said.

“We think everybody should have a will, every adult should have a will,” he said. “You shouldn’t feel that you need a will just if your demise is imminent. Everybody should have a will as part of responsible financial planning.”

Hewson noted that wills aren’t a one-time document, but can and should be changed throughout one’s life so they’re up to date, accounting for things like family growth and new assets.

But many Canadians don’t have a will, according to an Angus Reid Institute survey from January 2018. The survey found that 51 per cent of Canadians had no last will or testament, while 35 per cent of Canadians had one that wasn’t up to date.

That’s quite a problem, according to Nicole Ewing, a Canadian strategist with Edward Jones.


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Ewing told Global News that not having proper paperwork in place before death can have serious consequences for loved ones left behind.

“There’s legislation in each province that would dictate what happens in the event that an individual doesn’t have a will,” she said. “So there are rules that will apply and they might not be the ones he would want to apply to yourself and your family.”

Ewing noted having a will is about protecting loved ones, minors and beneficiaries. Dying without a will can leave behind a trail of unpaid bills, taxes and courtroom battles for those who survive you. Not to mention that you don’t get a say in who gets what.






4:28
Your questions about coronavirus and your finances, answered


Your questions about coronavirus and your finances, answered

She said the rules across Canada can differ on some critical matters. For example, provinces have varying rules on common-law couples. In several provinces, only married spouses are automatically granted a claim to your inheritance.

While more Canadians are looking online to make wills, Ewing cautioned that individualized advice from lawyers may be more reliable. She said that Canadians should also consider coordinating wills with their financial advisors and accountants.

“I think they should be all partnering together to help put the best document in place, because we want to ensure that your planning is coordinated,” she said, adding that a beneficiary listed on a bank account, for example, should be in line with what is on the will.

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— With files from Global News’ Erica Alini

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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How long will coronavirus measures last in Canada? Experts say June or July – Global News

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Canadians hunkered down in their homes should expect the strict public health measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus to last until the summer, according to federal and provincial health officials.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to give a specific timeline on when the lockdowns and quarantines might be lifted but said Wednesday the measures could last for “weeks or even months.”

“We know [these measures] are going to be in place a number of more weeks, perhaps even months. But everything depends on how Canadians behave,” Trudeau told reporters Wednesday. “The choices you make to stay at home, to self-isolate, not to go to six different grocery stores… these sorts of things are what will arrest the spread and the increase of this virus.”

“As I have often said, we look at all kinds of different scenarios,” Trudeau said. “It might last longer, it might last less time.”

Sources within the federal government and the City of Ottawa tell Global News the current pandemic-related restrictions are expected to be in place until at least June in a “best-case scenario.”

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A report from the National Post citing a document from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on March 30 projects that “current measures” will continue until at least July.

“Current GoC [Government Operations Centre] modelling suggests as a best-case scenario that current measures continue until at least July,” the document said. Global News reached out to the IRCC for comment but did not receive a response.

READ MORE: Without global action against coronavirus pandemic, 40 million could have died

However, the IRCC document did not specify whether all or some measures — like social distancing, mandatory self-isolation for recent travellers and the closure of the Canadian border to most foreigners — would remain in place.

The closure of the Canadian border to non-essential travel, for example, will last until at least June 30, according to the federal government.

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There were over 9,000 confirmed and presumptive cases of the new coronavirus in Canada, with 108 deaths, as of 11 a.m. ET Wednesday.

Provinces across the country have declared states of emergency, banning public gatherings and closing non-essential businesses and schools.

The measures, while necessary to halt the spread of the deadly virus, have crippled Canada’s economy.

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A projection from the parliamentary budget watchdog suggests the unemployment rate could skyrocket to 15 per cent by the end of the year, and federal agencies are preparing for an influx of four million people filing for a new emergency fund that ​will pay $2,000 a month to workers who have lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Provincial and local health officials have also warned that the country might be in this for the long haul.

READ MORE: Ontario reports 426 new coronavirus cases, total at 2,392 and 37 deaths

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said the measures imposed by the city, including limiting outings for groceries and supplies to just once a week, could be in place for up to 12 weeks.

“How long these measures need to be in place, how successful we are in terms of controlling virus spread is entirely in our hands,” de Villa said at a news conference on Wednesday morning.

“The more we are able to put these measures into place, the more we are able as a community to adhere to these measures, to adhere to the recommendations, the shorter will be the duration of these measures and the more effective we will be, most importantly, at reducing the loss of lives in our community.”

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4:17
B.C. health officials say COVID-19 restrictions will last until ‘at least the summer’


B.C. health officials say COVID-19 restrictions will last until ‘at least the summer’

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday that the current COVID-19 restrictions will likely remain in place until at least the summer.

“It’s more and more [unlikely] that we’re going to be able to get back to full normal life — which I miss a lot — before at least the summer,” Henry told reporters. “And then we need to start preparing ourselves for the potential of a second wave in the fall.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — How long can Canadians expect to be social distancing?

Dawn Bowdish, Canada Research Chair in aging and immunity at McMaster University, said that based on the models of other countries, like South Korea or Taiwan, Canadians should be prepared for at least three more months of staying at home and limiting public gatherings.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we may be able to start some back to work or some very limited lifts on social distancing [until July],”
Bowdish told Global News. “But honestly, it all depends on how proactive we are today.”

She said the virus will continue to be a public health risk until a vaccine is developed or there is broad herd immunity. Experts have estimated a vaccine is still 18 months away.

“If everyone could stay at home today, that will shorten that prediction,” Bowdish said. “But I think July is about right.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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