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COVID-19: Emergency Return Home from International Travel

Returning to Canada during an International Emergency


The day after I arrived in Chicago, the US declared a national emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suffice it to say, my timing was terrible. I immediately started questioning whether to cut my trip short, or stay the full two and a half weeks. I erred on the side of caution and very quickly contacted my airline. Although it took a while to get through, they were very accommodating and actually changed my ticket with no additional fee. If you're uncertain about change/cancelation policies, call the airlines because many airlines are making exceptions due to this extreme situation e.g. Porter was offering free changes even on restrictive basic fares. If you have issues which you can't resolve through the airline or insurance, you can try the government's transport dispute resolution services: https://rppa-appr.ca/eng/file-air-travel-complaint.

I found it interesting that Illinois shut down restaurants and bars earlier than Ontario, but that the federal reaction in Canada was much swifter. It turned out that the Prime Minister's wife was diagnosed with the novel Coronavirus so maybe that contributed to the thorough response. In any case, Justin Trudeau held press conferences stating that Canadians abroad needed to come home immediately. There was a later announcement that borders were closing between the US and Canada for non-essential travel. And the policies are morphing rapidly - in fact, initially travellers returning home were just asked to stay home for 14 days and now they're legally required to do so. In any case, this is an awful time to be stranded abroad regardless of whether you're somewhere you'd like to be or not.

For anyone still abroad, you need to act now. And when you make it back, remember that you must self-isolate for 14 days. This is a legal obligation, not a casual demand. This means that you can't even leave your house or apartment for walks and certainly not for grocery store runs. In fact, there are multiple delivery services and even community organizations that are available to pick up groceries, medicine, etc. for people in self-isolation.

I also suggest signing up for the government's Canadians abroad registry (https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration) - in fact, this is a helpful thing to do before any trip, regardless of whether there's a global pandemic or not. I feel strongly about purchasing travel insurance for each trip too, whether it's the US or any other country, you'll find yourself in a nightmarish scenario if you aren't adequately prepared and supported.

"Eligible Canadians currently outside Canada and needing help to return home can contact the nearest Government of Canada office or Global Affairs Canada‚Äôs 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted where available) or email [email protected]." And Trudeau has even announced loans of up to $5000, although I'm not sure whether that's only for travelers without insurance. He's also announced funding to support Canadians struggling financially during this crisis (see: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/03/introduces-canada-emergency-response-benefit-to-help-workers-and-businesses.html).

In terms of your travel journey, be aware that if you're symptomatic Trudeau had announced they won't let you in. That being said, it really disappointed me that when I left Midway Airport in Chicago on March 17 there were multiple passengers milling about the airport coughing freely (i.e. not into their elbows, or even their hands). So, I 100% suggest bringing hand sanitizer, a mask, bags to store dirty/clean items, bring contained snacks, and even gloves, if possible. When I arrived at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, I was happy that they were being more diligent - I was asked twice by officials whether I was symptomatic (thank goodness I wasn't!), and had to fill out an online declaration before they provided me with a handout loaded with information about who to call in case of emergency. In Ontario, you can do an online assessment (https://covid-19.ontario.ca/self-assessment/#q0) and if needed, call Public Health Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or your doctor's office. Of course, if your symptoms are severe and you're having extreme shortness of breath, fever, and a persistent dry cough then you may need to consider going to an ER.

It's so important right now to wash your hands thoroughly, maintain distance, and as much as possible just stay home and stay safe. Although it's not a good time to travel, it's a great time to work on your bucket list. Be creative and immerse yourself while picturing your trip: for example, make a good Turkish meal, listen to some Turkish music, and plot your next trip to Turkey! Take care, and get home safely!

Posted by madrugada 20:33 Archived in USA Tagged toronto chicago canada pandemic united_states coronavirus covid emergency_travel return_to_canada reentry

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