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Coronavirus Updates Canada: Trudeau Unsure If Social Distancing Will Last Months or Weeks

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced up to $5,000 to support Canadians stuck abroad and said Parks Canada visitor services are closed, as Ontario confirms its first COVID-19 death.
March 17, 2020, 12:38pm
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
File photo from Adrian Wyld (CP)

Updated at 6:30 p.m. (EDT): Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t know if current measures aimed at curtailing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) will last weeks or months, he said during his third address to the country while in self-isolation.

His news follows Ontario’s first COVID-19 death, the province's chief medical officer confirmed. B.C. reported three deaths Tuesday, for a total of eight across the country.

Trudeau also announced that Ottawa has set up an emergency loan program for up to $5,000 to support Canadians stuck abroad, but noted many Canadians likely won’t manage to return to the country in the coming days.

“There are almost 3 million Canadians that are travelling or living abroad at any point in time,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister also noted that Canadians should double down on social distancing, in part by staying at home.

“Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” Trudeau said.

Parks Canada will suspend all visitor services.

Trudeau said he’s also considering briefly recalling the federal government to introduce legislation that would alleviate the economic burden businesses are experiencing as a result of COVID-19.

“We will make sure Canadians are able to hold through this difficult time,” Trudeau said.

Ontario, Alberta and B.C. declare states of emergency

Trudeau’s message comes after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a state of emergency for the province in a drastic effort to stymie spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Effective immediately all libraries, private schools, recreational facilities, theatres, childcare centres, bars and restaurants are expected to close. Takeout and delivery services are exempt, as are shopping malls. There will also be a prohibition of public events that host more than 50 people.

Essential services, including public transit, grocery stores, and pharmacies will continue to operate, Ford said.

The closures are effective until March 31.

“We’re facing an unprecedented time in our history,” Ford said. “COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions.”

The province is also injecting $300 million into the healthcare system as part of the first stage in COVID-19 relief.

Alberta and B.C. followed Ontario in declaring a state of health emergency Tuesday afternoon. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced nearly identical closures and restrictions, and a combined $90 million in funding for social services and senior support.

Quebec has already introduced strict closures across the province to curb COVID-19 spread, Prince Edward Island said it’s experiencing a public health emergency, and Toronto’s local public health authorities demanded all non-essential businesses close.

Any Toronto businesses that remain open will be in violation of the Health Protection and Promotion act, which could potentially result in a fine, said Dr. Eileen De Villa, the city’s chief medical officer.

On Monday, Ford said all eviction notices will be suspended. He also proposed legislation that will protect anyone who needs to stay home in self-isolate or quarantine from losing their jobs.

Airlines suspend international flights

WestJet said late Monday that all international and transborder flights will be suspended for at least 30 days, effective March 23. Sunwing announced all commercial flights between March 17 and April 9 are cancelled, and everyone affected can opt for money back or a travel voucher, Sunwing said in a post. Both airlines said they will now shift their focus to repatriating Canadians stuck abroad.

More than 420 cases in Canada

Across Canada, there are now more than 500 COVID-19 cases, including eight deaths. Every province now has at least one confirmed or presumed COVID-19 case, according to Canada Public Health: B.C. reported 83 new cases Tuesday for a total of 186; Alberta reported 23 more cases Tuesday bringing the total to 97; Saskatchewan has seven; Manitoba has eight, Ontario has 186; Quebec has 50, New Brunswick has seven, Nova Scotia has five, Prince Edward Island has one, and Newfoundland and Labrador have one.

There are more than 189,000 COVID-19 cases globally and more than 7,500 deaths.

This is a breaking story. We will continue to update it as news unfolds.

With files from Sarah Berman.

Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.