Canada closes borders to foreigners, US citizens exempted

Step taken in response to coronavirus pandemic
Mar 17, 2020
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Canada is closing its borders to most foreigners -- excluding Americans -- in a bid to stem the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday.

"All Canadians, as much as possible, should also stay home," he told a news conference outside his home, where he and his family are self-isolating after his wife Sophie tested positive for COVID-19.

The move comes as the number of confirmed cases jumped from a few dozen traced to foreign travel two weeks ago to more than 400, including local transmission of the virus.

Three additional deaths were recorded by health authorities on Monday -- all linked to a care home for the elderly in a suburb of Vancouver -- bringing the countrywide toll to four.

"We will be denying entry to Canada to people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents," Trudeau said.

US citizens will be exempted, Trudeau said, because of the high "level of integration of our two economies and the coordination that we have."

This "puts the US in a separate category from the rest of the world," he added.

Following the announcement much of the nation began to shut down, from courthouses and gyms to restaurants and schools. Major sporting and entertainment events had already been cancelled.

Airlines will be ordered not to allow passengers with flu-like symptoms to board, while all inbound international flights will be redirected to airports in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, where public health screenings will be stepped up.

"All of them will be asked (upon arrival), 'Do you currently have a cough, difficulty breathing or feel (that) you have a fever?'" Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said. 

'A continental response'

The measures will take effect starting midday on Wednesday, according to Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

He added that cash would be made available to Canadians who want to return home but are stranded overseas because they are symptomatic. 

On top of the US exception, there will be exemptions for aircrews, diplomats and immediate family members of Canadian citizens, as well as truck drivers making regular deliveries across the Canada-US border.

"What's called for is really a continental response, with the integration of critical supply chains that include food and essential goods that Canadians rely on every day," Health Minister Patty Hajdu told a separate news conference.

"What we do on the American border is going to have to be done thoughtfully and in partnership with our American cousins, as well as our Mexican partners," she said.

Hajdu is scheduled to speak with her US and Mexican counterparts, Alex Azar and Jorge Carlos Alcocer, to hammer out a "North American approach" to combating the COVID-19 virus. Trudeau also spoke Monday with G7 leaders.

"We have to be cautious and prudent in how we apply this so that it doesn't pose other health risks to Canadians and Americans that would include running out of essential goods," Hajdu said.


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