This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced drastic border measures to curb further spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) virus in the country.
Trudeau said he is closing Canadian borders to all people who are not citizens or permanent residents, save for diplomats, airplane crew members, and their immediate family members.
Anyone who is displaying symptoms will not be allowed to enter the country either, 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. None of the initiatives apply to trade and business travel.
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 370 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 73, Alberta has 56, Saskatchewan has six, Manitoba has seven, Ontario has more than 170, Quebec has 39, New Brunswick has six, Nova Scotia has three, 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, two of the province’s 17 new cases, which appeared 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.
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 funneling 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.
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’ centers, 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 centers, 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 meters 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.
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