Emily Golem wasn’t nervous about the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic when she boarded a plane to Morocco late last week for an ocean-side yoga retreat.
That Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters that families should continue with their March break travel plans and “enjoy themselves.” There were no cases in the African country, and Golem, 27, from Hanover, Ont., said her travel agent advised her to go, but remember to wash her hands.
By the time her plane landed Friday, everything had changed, Golem said. Morocco closed its borders soon after her arrival, halting all international flights indefinitely, confirmed Global Affairs.
Golem, along with dozens of others of stranded Canadians, spent the next three days in the Casablanca Airport trying to catch a flight out of the country — South Africa, Istanbul, anywhere that would provide a connection to Canada.
“I am ready to go, and then within minutes of arriving at the gate, it’s cancelled,” Golem told HuffPost Canada, adding she’s been in touch with Canadian embassy “multiple times” and was advised to follow them on social media and contact airlines, but offered no other concrete guidance or support.
Watch: Trudeau tells Canadians abroad to come home. Story continues below.
This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau moved to close Canada’s borders to most non-Canadian citizens, telling those abroad: “It’s time for you to come home.” Ford has declared a state of emergency in Ontario.
Still stranded, Golem is asking the federal government to send a chartered flight to pick up Canadians in countries such as Morocco.
“I just want to come home. I believe I will come home. It’s just a matter of when,” Golem said. “I just really wish Trudeau would protect his citizens and get them home. There are planes. There are lots of planes. They’re just not in the air.”
However, Global Affairs Canada said in a statement late Tuesday that, “Canada has no current plans to repatriate a significant group of people from other countries.”
Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa earlier in the day that there are about three million Canadians living and working abroad at any given time, and to accept that not everyone will make it back immediately.
“We are looking at every possible way of bringing Canadians home,” Trudeau said. “It’s realistic to know some of them won’t be coming home in the coming weeks.”
The federal government is providing emergency loans of up to $5,000 to help Canadians “secure their timely return to Canada and to temporarily cover their life-sustaining needs,” according to a statement from Global Affairs Tuesday.
“Loans will be evaluated on a case by case basis according to needs and based on circumstances,” said spokesperson Adam Austin in an email.
The problem is that there are few, if any, flights currently leaving countries like Morocco, and time is running out as grocery stores and hotels shut down, said Golem. “I would rather they come and get us.”
Global Affairs said in an email that “limited flights departing from Morocco are currently still available and may be offered on some airlines later this week.” The embassy in Morocco is only dealing with emergency assistance to better serve stranded Canadians.
Thirteen Queen’s University students and a professor are also trying to get out of Kenya, after travelling there for a placement program last Wednesday.
The country now has three confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the president made a statement Sunday ordering all foreigners who’d just arrived to self-quarantine for two weeks, said Emma Ewing, one of the students.
“That was scary because we thought we couldn’t leave,” she said, noting the Canadian embassy was closed for the weekend, but she was able to speak to a representative Monday who told her it was OK to leave quarantine to travel home.
Ewing said she called Air Canada to reschedule their flight, and was offered a seat for $9,000. The group instead turned to a travel agent who was able to get them tickets to fly out Tuesday and Thursday.
Another student, Anya Gretchko, said the travel changes will cost about $500 for each person, but she is still not certain she will make it home.
“There’s so many possibilities and outcomes,” said Gretchko. “And then, even if you get in, you have to quarantine yourself, and that’s a whole other can of worms.”
The government is requesting all Canadians abroad register for updates. Canadians needing to get home can contact Global Affairs Canada’s 24/7 emergency watch at SOS@international.gc.ca or 1-613-996-8885. Collect calls are accepted. A list of international Government of Canada offices is available here.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Global Affairs.