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‘We were lucky’: Canadians slowly coming back from abroad, while others remain stranded

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Betty Dukes has returned, as has Grace Welch. Kaitlin MacDonald also returned home. Cari Soutar and her husband, John Hornung, and their daughters, Amy and Megan, were also among the lucky Canadians who left Morocco, the four now isolating themselves for two weeks at their Stittsville home. And after three consecutive days of travel and numerous canceled non-refundable tickets, Jocy Medina and her boyfriend, Auday Edan, are finally back in Ottawa.

They got away with sure and by con, and sometimes by sheer luck. But even with the arrival of government-organized Air Canada rescue jets – one last weekend, another Monday, and a third scheduled for Wednesday – to repatriate citizens caught in the North African kingdom, from Many Canadians will remain trapped there a little longer, as travel restrictions due to the novel coronavirus outbreak have closed the country’s borders.

“There were about 5,000 Canadians stranded in Morocco when things stopped,” MacDonald said Monday, “so three planes each carrying 450 people will not be enough.

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MacDonald, a Moncton resident, launched a Canadians in Morocco Facebook page after Morocco announced that all flights to and from the country would be canceled, to provide other travelers with a source of information and connection . The page currently has over 550 members, and despite returning to Canada, MacDonald remains an active advocate in supporting and helping others return home.

“I want to make sure people have the most up-to-date information,” she says, “so if we hear something, we pass it on to the network.”

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For MacDonald and his two traveling companions, the return to Canada involved driving from city to city – from Fez to Casablanca to Marrakech, for example – endless hours on the phone in futile attempts to book travel tickets. plane, days of self-isolation in hotel rooms. , and far too much non-isolation, as they waited for hours in crowded airports.

“I have never touched so many foreigners in my life,” says Soutar of Stittsville of the overcrowded Marrakech airport. “If you didn’t have coronavirus when you walked into this airport, there’s a good chance you got it when you left.”

Soutar says his family’s escape from Morocco owes a lot to chance. Staying in a hotel in Marrakech, she woke up in the middle of the night last Wednesday to have a drink of water, and at the same time decided to check out the What’sApp group set up, like MacDonald’s on Facebook. , to share information with them. stranded in the country.

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“Someone said Ryanair just added a flight,” she recalls. So she went to the airline’s website and, finding many seats available, began the online reservation process. When she went to check it out, however, she realized she was only buying one ticket, not the four she needed. When she retraced her steps, she was able to secure four of the last remaining tickets. “The entire plane sold out in minutes.

“We were lucky.”

Grace Welch, who left Morocco on the 18th, uses part of her isolation time to check on other travelers she has encountered on her abridged trip. Most, she says, are now back in their countries of origin.

But the ordeal, the Carlingwood resident notes, was surreal. The hotel she stayed at in Marrakech said it is expected to close last Friday. “So if we weren’t out when we did, we didn’t know where we were going to be. And that was the really scary part – you just didn’t know that. You never knew where you were going to turn.

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Canadians abroad were told they could apply for an emergency loan from the federal government to pay for the cost of repatriation flights.

These commercial flights started this week. Luke Carroll and Nicole Bayes-Fleming, a Canadian couple stranded in Peru after a backpacking trip to South America with a closed Canadian embassy and closed borders, were due to return to Canada on Tuesday afternoon. The couple did not apply for the loan and paid about $ 2,800 for the flights and an additional $ 1,200 for the flights that had been canceled.

The questionnaire sent to Canadians looking for loans by the Global Affairs Emergency Watch and Response Center clearly indicated that the government was creating a “temporary financial assistance program” called the “COVID Emergency Loan Program. -19 for Canadians abroad ”.

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Only Canadian citizens who have no other source of money, are stuck outside of Canada and are directly affected by measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 were eligible for a loan of up to to $ 5,000 to cover travel expenses and short-term needs.

Global Affairs defined a traveler affected by COVID-19 as someone who had booked a canceled or delayed return flight, someone who tried to book a flight but could not due to travel restrictions or high costs. Canadian citizens traveling with an immediate family member who is a permanent resident have been allowed to include that person in their applications.

To assess eligibility, Global Affairs asked applicants if they had “family or friends who can transfer funds to you or make purchases on your behalf” and if they have other financial options, including credit cards or a line of credit. The questionnaire also asked whether the claimant had travel insurance and if so, whether this insurance covers travel, living or medical expenses in the event of an emergency.

Details on the repayment of the loan have not yet been made public.

With files from Shaamini Yogaretnam

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