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Two weeks after calls to come home, thousands of Canadians are still stranded abroad –



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned at the outset of COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions that some Canadians would be stranded abroad. That warning looks like prophecy now for a number of people for whom travel options are becoming increasingly scarce.

Canada issued a blanket non-essential travel advisory on Friday, March 13, telling would-be travellers not to leave the country — that they would risk getting stuck abroad during the pandemic.

The next day, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne encouraged all Canadians in the U.S. and overseas to come home — a call that prompted caravans of snowbirds to make the trip home from sunny destinations like Arizona and Florida.

But travellers in other countries — including those who left well before the advisory was issued — haven’t been able to make it home due to severe border restrictions in some countries that have halted the movement of foreigners and locals alike.

After the initial flood of media reports on Canadians stranded in countries where borders were shut with little notice, the federal government has been working with companies like Air Canada and Air Transat to send planes to destinations in Morocco, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru, among others, to repatriate Canadians. Thousands have already headed home.

But demand for transportation back to Canada has exceeded the capacity of even the largest of jumbo jets, while emergency tickets are being snatched up in an instant or snarled by internet connectivity problems in remote locales.

Vancouver-based lawyer Peter Swanson has been stuck in Cusco, Peru, for days. He’s been largely confined to his room, with little access to life’s necessities beyond the walls of his hotel.

He said he’s heard many “horror stories” of people securing tickets on rescue flights only to be told their booking wasn’t valid because of a glitch. So far, the rescue flights have been departing the country only from the capital, Lima — but there are several hundred Canadians in Cusco, the city used as a staging ground for hikers climbing Machu Picchu.

The long, winding drive over the Andes to Lima takes 19 hours in normal conditions, but it’s impossible in a country where martial law is now in place and domestic travel is nonexistent.

Swanson said he hopes he can catch a Lima-bound flight Friday and a connecting rescue flight to Toronto in the evening.

“I am pretty much never leaving my phone or iPad so I can get online right away,” Swanson told CBC News. “It has been a bit of a roller coaster, with a lot of rumour and misinformation on possible efforts to get Canadians from Cusco.

“Sadly, I think there are going to be a number of Canadians stuck here for a while longer.”

The Americans already have airlifted stranded travellers from Cusco to Miami. The Israelis also brought their countrymen home days ago on a rented El Al jet.

A woman walks in the almost empty streets of Cusco in Peru. (Submitted by Peter Swanson)

Canadians are waiting anxiously for further instructions from officials who have been swamped with requests for help. In the last two days alone, Global Affairs Canada has fielded 8,907 calls and 25,441 emails at the Emergency Response and Watch Centre in Ottawa from Canadians all over the world.

Emergency response centre swamped

The emergency response centre is more accustomed to helping Canadians with lost passports, or people whose loved ones have died abroad. It’s not experienced in organizing a large-scale evacuation of tens of thousands of people trying to outrun a global pandemic.

Given the sheer volume of correspondence, much of the government’s communication with Canadians like Swanson has been through social media. Champagne has urged all travellers to register with the Canadians Abroad service so the government knows who’s abroad and where they are, and who’s ready to go.

“Fellow Canadians in Peru: We continue to work to organize the upcoming flights of Thursday and Friday. Our goal is for the Friday flight to have as many people from Cusco as possible,” Ralph Jansen, Canada’s ambassador in Peru, tweeted Wednesday.

(CBC News)

Air Canada has been sending special promotional codes to registered email addresses when flights become available. Those codes can be used on their website to book rescue flights. The cost of a one-way ticket home from Peru is about $1,400.

One of the Canadians who will be stuck in Peru for the foreseeable future is Greg Bestavros. He’s been in a hostel near Cusco for 11 days and, while conditions have been grim, he said he’s hoping to get out soon on a rescue flight.

Now he’s been told that won’t happen because someone else in the hostel has tested positive for COVID-19 — and the Peruvian government doesn’t want anyone entering or leaving the building for the next month or more.

“We’re locked down here for a duration of one to three months. This hostel is in a military quarantine,” Bestavros said. He faces jail time of up to five years if he tries to leave. He’s tried to contact Global Affairs Canada, to no avail.

“There’s obviously a very high volume of calls. We’ve been reaching out to the various numbers that have been provided. At this point we haven’t heard back from anyone.”

Greg Bestavros says the Peruvian government is threatening to lock everyone down for up to three months to contain COVID-19. 6:38

“I wish that [government] action had come swifter, because now we’re in a situation where we don’t know if we’ll be able to make it home,” Bestavros said. “We’ve checked emails, we filled out forms, we’ve waited for something to happen and our worst fear has come to light now.”

‘Dog’s breakfast’

Global Affairs Canada said it’s doing all it can to bring people like Bestavros home but with 419,400 people registered in nearly every country on earth, some inevitably will be left behind.

“We are working to help as many Canadians as possible return home, but some may remain outside of the country for an indeterminate amount of time,” the department said in a statement.

The Canadian government has really not got their act together.– Oliver Hartleben

“Canadians that are already outside of Canada or unable to return to Canada should monitor local media and follow local public health advice [on] lockdown or shelter-in-place guidance.”

Kurt Egloff, a retired civil servant from Ottawa, has been travelling throughout South America with his wife for months over the winter.

The couple arrived in Lima on the very day the Peruvian president closed the border, ending all commercial flight traffic to points abroad. That lockdown has been extended until April 15. He hasn’t been able to get a ticket on any of the three flights that have left the country so far. He only received an Air Canada offer code once.

“The whole process is very tricky, very frustrating,” Egloff told CBC News. “They keep saying, ‘We can’t promise to get everybody back home.’ That concerns us.”

Egloff said he and his wife are worried about their supply of prescription medications as the days tick by.

A dog lies in the empty streets of Cusco in Peru. (Submitted by Peter Swanson)

The government had said it would prioritize certain passengers for rescue flights, especially those more susceptible to COVID-19-related complications. Egloff said he was disappointed to see pictures of the first Lima evacuations involving planes full of young people destined for Canada while some of the more vulnerable were left behind.

Egloff said the booking process for repatriation flights has been a “dog’s breakfast,” one that privileges the web-savvy. The cost of a ticket home is steep and applying for the government’s emergency loan program is cumbersome.

“It’s not been very stellar, let’s put it that way. Other countries have had a much more efficient, prompt process in place and they were able to bring their people back for free,” Egloff said.

Janis Legg is worried about her son, Tyler, who’s also in a Cusco hostel with “little social distancing, police on every street corner and very poor communication from the Peruvian and Canadian governments.”

Legg said Tyler and other travellers are “frustrated and scared,” worried that if they get sick they won’t have a way home given Canadian restrictions on symptomatic passengers travelling by plane. Canadians who are sick will be denied boarding and told to seek medical attention in the countries where they are.

Legg said she just wants to know if her son will be safe. “The communication breakdown is catastrophic, given all that today’s technology can provide for,” she said.

Canadians wait outside of the embassy in Lima, Peru. Access to consular services has been limited or non-existent. (Submitted by Kurt Egloff)

Some Canadians in other countries, like Guatemala, have given up waiting for the federal government to come to their aid.

Oliver Hartleben had been trying to get his family out of the country for days, with Canadian embassy officials offering bus services to the Mexican border to help travellers find flights home from a country with fewer travel restrictions.

His family made it out of Guatemala on Monday — but only because his daughter is also an American, and they could hitch a ride on an evacuation flight organized by the American embassy on Monday.

“The Canadian government has really not got their act together. We heard that the bus they organized to go via land to Mexico never showed up,” he said.

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



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.

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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.

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.”

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. 

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.

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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.

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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.”

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



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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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



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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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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