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Time is running out for hundreds of Canadians stuck in Peru, desperate to come home –



There is a new urgency for more than 1,000 Canadians in Peru desperately trying to make their way home amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic — the country’s minister of defence has announced that as of Sunday, Peru will no longer support the repatriation of foreigners.

All borders and airports were shut down on March 16, but the Peruvian government continued to co-ordinate with foreign governments in Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere to get their citizens home.

But now, the Peruvian government says it must do more to contain the spread of the coronavirus — so foreigners have little time to leave the country. 

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Saturday afternoon on Twitter that he had spoken to Peru’s foreign minister and Canadian travellers stranded there “can return home on agreed flights.”

On Saturday, some Canadians stranded in Peru posted on Facebook that they had received calls from the Canadian Embassy about arrangements to co-ordinate travel permits and flights to allow them to fly out. It’s unclear exactly how the repatriations will work. 

Toronto resident Maria Andreeva is stranded in Lima, Peru’s capital.  

The 39-year-old was on a 10-day retreat in the jungle near Tarapoto in the northern part of the country.

But on March 16, the day she was supposed to head home to Toronto — and back to her two boys, ages four and six — the government announced it was shutting the border down effective at midnight.

Andreeva arrived at the airport to find chaos.

“That evening was stressful and scary,” she said. “A lot of people like me looked really shocked and scared and lost.”

The country’s military lockdown closed borders and stationed police on street corners in major towns and cities. President Martin Vizcarra also declared a state of emergency, calling for 15 days of mandatory quarantine. The only exceptions are to obtain food or medicine.

WATCH Canadian stranded in Peru:

Greg Bestavros, one of hundreds of Canadians stranded in Peru, urges the Canadian government to take swift action before Peruvian borders close. 8:00

There are 4,300 registered Canadians in Peru, according to Global Affairs Canada.

Stranded Canadians are using a Facebook group to share information, tips and encouraging stories of other overseas Canadians who are finding their way home.

Greg Bestavros, 29, was one of the first to join, along with his fianceé Marina Fanous. They left Toronto for Lima on March 12 for a friend’s wedding.

“At the time, the Canadian government wasn’t indicating we shouldn’t go to Peru,” Bestavros told CBC News. “But things quickly took a turn for the worse.” 

Greg Bestavros and his fiancee Marina Fanous are now not allowed to leave the hostel they are staying in Cusco. (Submitted by Greg Bestavros)

He and Fanous travelled to Cusco, an hour’s flight southeast of Lima, on March 15 when they learned the country was closing its borders.

“Being polite and patient while our government has dragged their feet has put us in a very scary and very real situation,” said Bestavros. “We are prisoners here and have no chance to get home unless our government intervenes immediately.”

Adding to his frustration, says Bestavros, people from Mexico they met on their trip saw their government swing into action and get them home. He says two fellow travellers boarded a bus organized by the Mexican government, which drove them for nine hours to an airport in Arequipa, where a plane was waiting to get them home.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday he was working on bringing home a group of Toronto-area high school students in Lima. 

“There have been conflicting stories about that,” said Niti Patel, a 25-year-old health-care worker from Calgary who was trekking through Machu Picchu when her hike was stopped short. She, too, is now stuck in Cusco, near the ancient city, with no way to get to the capital — and, presumably, any flights out — because of the lockdown. 

Niti Patel’s trek through Machu Picchu was cut short when the government declared a state of emergency and locked down the country. (Submitted by Niti Patel)

Tensions are high, she told CBC News. The military is present at every intersection, restricting movement in the town of about half a million people.

Ford’s announcement only added to the frustration and confusion. 

“I’ve been hearing that Lima airport is completely shut down and they’re not letting anyone through,” she said.

“I really don’t know what to believe, which is really frustrating.” 

When CBC News asked Ford’s office for an update on the repatriation of the students, a spokesperson referred our questions to Global Affairs.

Melissa Cortijo and her husband Raul, from Burlington, Ont., were on a trip in South America that started in Chile in February, making their way through Argentina and finally Peru. 

Melissa Cortijo rebooked her flight to get home early, but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Melissa Cortijo)

They arrived on March 13 and heard from family that the COVID-19 crisis was intensifying around and the government was urging Canadians to come home. They rebooked their Air Canada flights to come back several days early, but that flight was cancelled.

“We need our government to take us home,” said Cortijo.

“They say there are going to be other planes being sent elsewhere, but they weren’t specific as to where,” said Cortijo, referring to what she has seen on the news. She and her husband are relying on the generosity of parents of her friends back in Canada who are hosting them.

“That uncertainty is really causing a lot of angst and stress.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said a flight has been arranged to bring home Canadians stranded in Morocco, and said his government is working with the airlines to bring more Canadians home.

Bestavros and other Canadians in Peru received a notification on Thursday, asking them to fill out a form — detailing things like passport information and whether they are residents or Canadian citizens.

The notice said that the information collected “would be used to organize a possible return,” from Peru.

“We need support … immediate action, before we become prisoners in Peru for an undetermined amount of time,” said Bestavros.

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Canada ‘very concerned’ with OPEC’s decisions amid coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau – Global News



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is “very concerned” with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) decisions amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, but that the government remains focused on helping Canadians struggling as a result of the dramatic drop in oil prices.

Trudeau made the remarks during a press conference from Rideau Cottage on Saturday, saying OPEC’s decisions are “putting at risk the livelihoods of people around the world, particularly Canadians who work in the oil and gas sector.”

Coronavirus: How is the COVID-19 outbreak affecting gas prices in Canada?

The price of oil sank nearly 20 per cent in early March after Russia refused to roll back production in response to falling demand and OPEC member Saudi Arabia signalled it will ramp up its own output.

OPEC is an intergovernmental organization comprised of 13 nations that seeks to co-ordinate and unify petroleum policies to stabilize oil markets.

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Saudi Arabia‘s state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco said it would increase its crude oil production to 12.3 million barrels a day in April, a record amount.

While low oil prices can translate into cheaper gasoline, they wreak havoc on energy companies and countries that count on petroleum revenue.

Alberta closes some non-essential business, prevents evictions as 542 COVID-19 cases confirmed

Trudeau said the government remains focused on helping Canadians who are “hardest hit” economically by COVID-19.

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“The measures we’ve put in place will support Canadians right across the country, including in our oil and gas sector,” he said. “But we also know it’s a sector that has been particularly hard-hit and we will look for further help to be able to support people as they get through.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau announces new measures on domestic flights and intercity passenger trains

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau announces new measures on domestic flights and intercity passenger trains

The price of Western Canadian Select for crude fell below $5 USD a barrel on Friday, as demand during the COVID-19 outbreak continued to drop.

Western Canadian Select prices averaged $27.28 USD a barrel in February, almost 40 per cent lower than the average in February 2019.

READ MORE: Those with COVID-19 symptoms will be barred from domestic flights and intercity trains, Trudeau says

Trudeau’s comments come a day after Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called for a coordinated North American approach, saying the energy sector employs millions and must be protected.

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“I fear if the Saudis and Russians continue this foolishness in the midst of a crash in demand you will see these kinds of catastrophically low prices for some time and ultimately producers will have nowhere to ship it to in the short term,” Kenney told reporters on Friday.

Coronavirus outbreak: Kenney calls for coordinated tariffs with U.S. in response to ‘predatory dumping’ of Saudi oil

Coronavirus outbreak: Kenney calls for coordinated tariffs with U.S. in response to ‘predatory dumping’ of Saudi oil

Kenney said Canada should consider coordinating with the U.S. to end what he called “predatory dumping” by Saudi Arabia.

“Some measures would include, potentially, tariffs on foreign oil imports or certainly a potential investigation into dumping activity by OPEC into the North American market,” Kenney said.

Kenney said 13 U.S. Senators have written to U.S. President Donald Trump calling for such an investigation to be launched.

Trump tells Pence to not call states critical of federal COVID-19 response

But, when asked by reporters if Canada would consider taking a more aggressive approach in dealing with Saudi Arabia, Trudeau said he thinks Canada should focus on “getting through COVID-19 as best we possibly can.”

“I think there will be a lot of reflections on how various countries behaved in this particular moment. Our focus right now is on making sure we can support our citizens and stabilize the global economy the best way we can, which we are doing in our membership in the G7, in the G20, in various international fora and approaches that we have,” he said. “While at the same time focusing on making sure we’re supporting Canadians and keeping them safe.”

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When asked when people in the hard-hit energy sector will know what kind of aid to expect, Trudeau said the government is continuing to work with provinces and industry members to “get this right.”

“People in industries and places right across the country are going to be able to pick themselves up and get back to work and have our economy continue to work strongly like it was before,” Trudeau said.

“It’s going to take a lot of effort in the meantime, and it’s going to take us doing different things and trying different things, but we are going to keep working until we may manage to help everyone,” he continued.

–With files from The Canadian Press

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

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China donates thousands of medical masks, personal protective equipment to Canada – CTV News



China has donated thousands of medical supplies to Canada to aid in the fight against the COVID-19, according to the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.

In a tweet published on Saturday morning, the embassy said it had sent 30,000 medical masks, 10,000 sets of protective clothing, 10,000 goggles and 50,000 pairs of gloves to Canada on Friday.

The embassy also said that shipment would be followed by another one containing the much sought-after N95 masks.

“We are together!” the Chinese Embassy wrote.

On Saturday afternoon, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne thanked China for the donation.

“In the face of a global pandemic, supporting each other is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” he said in a tweet

Health-care systems around the world have reported shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their frontline workers. 

In Canada, some hospitals have appealed to other industries, such as educational institutions and dental clinics, to donate equipment, while others have begun rationing the number of masks each staff member can use per shift.

Because China is the largest supplier of PPE in the world, the global supply took a big hit when the country had to shut down its factories earlier this year when the outbreak began.

In February, Canada sent 16 tonnes of medical equipment to China to help the country, which was then the epicentre of the outbreak, respond to the emergency.

Since then, the Canadian government has faced criticism for sending those supplies that are now needed at home.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s decision by explaining that it was part of Canada’s response to the global crisis. He also said Canadian businesses have retooled production to manufacture equipment for the health-care system.  

“I can assure everyone that the federal stockpiles have been sufficient to meet the needs of the provinces until this point,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister also said Canada would receive “millions more items” that are needed for the health emergency.

Canada isn’t the only recipient of Chinese medical supplies, either.

In the past week, China has donated PPE to various nations grappling with the pandemic, including, most recently, Pakistan.

On Saturday, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said China had sent a plane loaded with medical personnel and aid to help the South Asian country respond to the outbreak there. The shipment included ventilators, masks, and other medical equipment. 

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Canadians with COVID-19 symptoms to be denied boarding on domestic flights, trains: PM – CTV News



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that as of noon Monday, boarding of domestic flights and trains will be denied to people showing any symptoms related to COVID-19.

He said all Canadians are being asked to remain home as much as possible in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, but in particular those with symptoms of COVID-19 should not go out. Those symptoms include fever and cough.

“We are giving further tools to airlines and rail companies to ensure that anyone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms does not travel,” he said. He said it will be up to the companies to ensure the new rules are followed.

Trudeau also addressed the situation of the 248 Canadians stranded on a cruise ship off the coast of Panama, where some passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 and four others have died.

The federal government is working with the Panamanian government and Holland America, which operates the Zaandam, in an effort to get the Canadians home.

He said the efforts are part of the “herculean task” Global Affairs Canada is undertaking to repatriate stranded Canadians around the world.

Two passengers on board the MS Zaandam have tested positive for the disease while 53 passengers and 85 crew have flu-like symptoms, Holland America said in a statement.

There are 1,243 passengers and 586 crew on board, the company said in a statement. The Zaandam is anchored off the coast of Panama and plans are underway to move healthy people to its sister ship nearby, Holland America said.

“We continue to engage with the Panamanian government, and are working with Holland America on their plans to get passengers home,” said Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Angela Savard.

Michael Kasprow is terrified for his 81-year-old mother, Julie, who is currently contained to her room with her friend on the Zaandam. She is healthy, he said, and had her vital signs checked yesterday.

“My mom’s demeanour certainly changed in the past 24 hours from, ‘This will be OK,’ to hearing news that people on board had passed away,” Kasprow said.

“My mom is my superhero and is incredibly circumspect when it comes to things like that, but it’s really stressful and scary to her, and this definitely rocked her a bit.”

The crew is preparing to move his mother to the sister ship, the Rotterdam, he said.

“From what I understand, they are going to move healthy and asymptomatic passengers over to the Rotterdam to find some place to dock,” Kasprow said.

All ports along its route are closed, Holland America said.

“While the onward plan for both ships is still being finalized, we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities on approval to transit the Panama Canal for sailing to Fort Lauderdale, Florida,” the company said.

Kasprow, from Toronto, said he is dealing with a mixture of emotions with the uncertainty about his mother, who lives in Thornhill, Ont.

“I just want her home in her stupid chair for 14 days so we have everybody in the same area and I can talk to her from the end of the driveway,” he said.

Meanwhile, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer has delivered a sobering assessment of the country’s struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Howard Njoo said the fight is far from over, that it could include a second wave, and that we are certainly in it “for the long haul.”

“It’s definitely months. Many months,” Njoo estimated Friday as the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada surged to 4,757, including 55 deaths.

Quebec’s COVID-19 caseload has soared to more than 2,000 — more than double Ontario’s 993 cases.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been told by chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance to stay healthy and be ready to respond immediately to the escalating crisis.

One possible glimmer of hope did emerge from B.C. Friday, where data indicates the province’s COVID experience will likely resemble South Korea’s rather than brutally hit Italy. B.C.’s health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said she thinks the social distancing strategy is working and she urged residents to keep at it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 28, 2020.

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