Some of the country’s top telecommunications service providers are working with the federal government to send text messages with consular support information to Canadians abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced Wednesday that Rogers, Bell, Telus, Videotron, Freedom Mobile, Eastlink, and SaskTel have all agreed to help subscribers living or travelling outside of the country receive messages from Global Affairs Canada.
In a press release praising the telecom companies for ensuring their services remain uninterrupted at a time of increased demand, Bains said he was “pleased that Canada’s telecommunications service providers have acted quickly to help Canadians as they take steps to answer the call for social distancing.”
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Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the measures will help Canadians abroad during a difficult and critical period.
“Many Canadians abroad are currently relying on uninterrupted service from Canada’s telecommunications service providers to access consular services,” he said.
The messages will direct Canadians abroad to register for updates with Global Affairs Canada, as well as provide information on travel advisories and contacts for embassies and consulates. The messages will also share contacts for Global Affairs Canada’s 24/7 emergency response centre, which can be reached at 1-613-996-8885 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Thursday that his government is working very hard to help Canadians return.
“It’s time for Canadians to come home from around the world,” he said at a news conference outside of his residence, where he is self-isolating because his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
“We recognize that will be a challenge. That’s why we sent out a text message to all Canadians overseas with information on how to share their situation and get in touch with consular services.”
Trudeau said his government is responding to the “overwhelming demand” for support from Canadians trying to get back home.
Trudeau also took to Twitter Wednesday to promote the initiative and caution Canadians not to dismiss the messages as a cellphone phishing scam.
“If you’re living or traveling abroad and you’ve received a text message with consular support information and key contact details, it’s not fake - so don’t delete it!” Trudeau wrote.
Meanwhile, Champagne has provided some new details about the scope of the challenge. He told The Globe and Mail some travellers will “have to stay where they are for the next few weeks” due to border and airspace restrictions, calling the situation the “biggest consular operation in peace time in the history of Canada.”
Global Affairs Canada received about 6,000 calls and 8,000 emails from Canadians abroad on Tuesday alone, the foreign affairs minister also told The Globe.
Trudeau announced Monday that Canada would close its borders to most non-Canadian citizens.
“Let me be clear: if you’re abroad, it’s time for you to come home,” he said then. “If you’ve just arrived, you must self-isolate for 14 days.”
On Wednesday, Trudeau confirmed the Canada-U.S. border would close to non-essential travel. The measure is expected to take effect overnight between Friday and Saturday, he said Thursday.
Canadians directly impacted by the pandemic and in need of financial assistance to get home can apply for an emergency loan of up to $5,000 — dubbed the COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad — from the federal government.
Ottawa says the funds are meant to temporarily help those abroad “secure their timely return to Canada and to temporarily cover their life-sustaining needs while they work toward their return.”