Updated at 6:30 p.m. EDT: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced drastic border measures to curb further spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) virus in the country on Monday—shortly before Canada confirmed it has more than 400 cases and B.C. announced three more deaths caused by COVID-19, bringing the country’s total to four.
Trudeau said he is closing Canadian borders to all people who are not citizens or permanent residents, with the exception of U.S. citizens, diplomats, airplane crew members, and their immediate family members.
The prime minister said he has made exceptions for U.S. citizens because of the close economic integration between the two countries, but also said this may change in the future.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the associate chief medical officer in Ontario, told reporters that several COVID-19 cases have been linked to the U.S., which is a cause for concern.
Anyone who is displaying symptoms will not be allowed to enter the country either, including Canadian citizens, but the prime minister said Ottawa will put strategies in place to support sick Canadians abroad.
“Airlines will receive a formal order to ban all symptoms from getting on an airplane,” said Trudeau.
Only four airports in Canada—Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver—will welcome international flights. Domestic flights as well as flights from Mexico, the U.S., and the Caribbean will not be affected for now, and none of the initiatives apply to trade and business travel in order to keep Canada’s supply chain open.
“Let me be clear, if you’re abroad it’s time to come home,” Trudeau said to Canadians currently abroad.
The announcement follows a previous address by Health Minister Patty Hajdu that criticized border-closing measures for being ineffective.
“Borders don’t stop travellers, and travellers find other ways into countries,” Hajdu said last week.
The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) is also beefing up security measures at the border. All travellers, regardless of country of origin, will be interrogated about their health and any cold- and flu-like symptoms they may be experiencing. Canadians and permanent residents returning from abroad also have to acknowledge at the border that they will enter a two-week period of self-isolation.
On Monday, Trudeau said border measures are “now necessary.” He also urged all Canadians to listen to public health authorities and stay home to limit COVID-19 spread, but didn’t call for wide-scale shut down of non-essential businesses like bars and gyms.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Canadians should now cancel and avoid all gatherings with more than 50 people.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer, upped Canada’s COVID-19 risk level from low to “very high” on Sunday, again urging people to limit their time away from home, practice social distancing, and avoid large crowds. Residents are also expected to avoid all non-essential travel, and those who are returning home from abroad are expected to self-isolate for two weeks.
“We all need to act now. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat,” Tam said.
Currently, Canada has more than 400 cases—more than double the number it had on Friday. Every province in the country now has at least one confirmed or presumed COVID-19 case, according to Canada Public Health: British Columbia has more than 100, including five in acute care and four deaths; Alberta has 74 and Calgary announced a state of emergency; Saskatchewan has six; Manitoba has seven, Ontario has 177; Quebec has 41, New Brunswick has six, Nova Scotia has five, Prince Edward Island has one, and Newfoundland and Labrador have one.
More community cases—those with no known source and likely contracted within Canada—are starting to appear. According to Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, two of the province’s 17 cases from over the weekend have no known source, while seven of the cases were contracted in a single gathering. That means there are Albertans who are likely carrying the illness, but don’t know it yet. The province will be closing daycares as well as schools.
Hinshaw announced she is going into self-isolation after experiencing cold symptoms Monday.
BC announces three more deaths
British Columbia’s health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the province will be shutting down all casinos in the province, banning gatherings of more than 50 people, and postponing all elective surgeries. The B.C. health system is shifting to “outbreak response phase two,” which will make room for urgent care beds.
Health Minister Adrian Dix pushed back on federal travel exceptions for Americans, given the outbreak situation in northern Washington state. “We remain concerned that access from United States visitors continues to be allowed,” Dix told reporters Monday. “Our strong view and strong message is that visitors from the U.S. not come to B.C.—don’t come, because at this moment that is the wrong thing to do.”
Henry confirmed three more COVID-19 deaths, all linked to a senior care centre in North Vancouver.
Ontario to close non-essential businesses
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Williams, announced on Monday afternoon that faith-based institutions, private schools, and daycares must also close. He also suggested all restaurants and bars should close for the foreseeable future, except for takeout services, and all gatherings of 50 or more should be avoided.
Williams said the move should be viewed as expanded social distancing and called it “unprecedented.”
Toronto is demanding that businesses close. The city’s medical officer, Dr. Eileen De Villa, said all bars, dine-in restaurants, nightclubs, and theatres must close effective March 17.
De Villa, who confirmed community spread in Toronto, said she will issue health violations under the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion act to establishments that choose to remain open.
Earlier in the day, Ontario announced it will table legislation that, if passed, will allow residents to take time off work without fear of job loss.
Ontario said it will table legislation that, if passed, will allow residents to take time off work without fear of job loss, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday.
The province is also funnelling more resources to Ontario’s Telehealth service to limit wait times for residents who call and inquire about COVID-19 symptoms, but stopped short of closing private businesses that offer non-essential services, including bars and shops.
Premier Doug Ford’s proposed legislation will protect several Ontarians affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, including parents who have to stay home with their children now that schools are closed. The legislation also ensures employers can’t reprimand people who choose to stay home sick. Finally, the government is banning employers from demanding sick notes for their staff who are in quarantine or who choose to self-isolate. The premier did not say when the house will vote on the bill.
Employers will not be required to pay staff who are in self-isolation, according to Ford’s government.
Last week, Trudeau’s government waived the typical one-week employment insurance wait period in light of COVID-19, so anyone who has to self-isolate for two weeks can earn up to $573 per week during their entire quarantine.
On Sunday, Quebec became the first province to call for non-essential private businesses to close, such as bars, gyms, and ski hills. Restaurants were not included in the list, but Quebec Premier Francois Legault asked them to limit occupancy to 50 percent to maintain distance between customers.
Quebec also banned visits to seniors’ centres, long-term care facilities, and hospitals in an attempt to protect the people most vulnerable. Legault asked people over 70 to self-isolate, adding that anyone in the position to help seniors with errands should do so.
Cities such as Toronto and Edmonton have already shut down publicly run services—schools, libraries, museums, recreation centres, daycares—until at least April 5. Ottawa has told people to limit all non-essential trips out of the home and maintain at least one to two metres of distance from others. Schools across Alberta have also closed indefinitely, while universities across the country have either suspended classes or moved them online.
The point of stringent social distancing, Tam said, is to “flatten the already narrow curve” of disease spread—a shorthand that signifies a dramatically slowed pace of germ-sharing. By limiting physical contact, Tam said she hopes spread will slow enough to protect medical systems from becoming overwhelmed.
The initiatives are “entirely appropriate and probably late, but hopefully not too late,” David Buckeridge, a professor with McGill University’s school of population and global health, told the Montreal Gazette.
A team of infectious disease specialists from the University of Toronto published an open letter, stating several jurisdictions have seen “lesser” or “delayed” action. The group called for aggressive social distancing measures across Canada, including the immediate closure of non-essential businesses.
Over the weekend, many Ontario university students chose to partake in St. Patrick’s Day activities—a move that contradicts advice issued by public health authorities.
There are more than 175,000 COVID-19 cases globally, with more than 7,000 deaths.
With files from Sarah Berman.
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