Coronavirus: Canada shutting borders to non-citizens and non-residents in dramatic escalation of pandemic fight

Ian Young

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the country is closing its borders to travellers who are not citizens or permanent residents, in a dramatic escalation on Monday of the government's fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“These measures will help save lives,” he said, telling Canadians they should not go out and should simply “stay home”, as Toronto’s medical chief ordered bars and restaurants to close.

US citizens are exempted from the border ban on foreigners, for now, Trudeau said. Other exemptions will apply to diplomats, aircrew and some others, including the immediate family members of Canadians.

“The level of integration of our two countries … puts the US in a separate category to the rest of the world,” the prime minister said.

At a bank in Toronto on Monday, people watch Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. Photo: Reuters

But some said the measures announced by Trudeau did not go far enough.

In British Columbia – which shares an extensive land border with Washington state, scene of a serious Covid-19 outbreak – authorities flatly told Americans to stay away.

“It’s our strong view and it’s our strong message that visitors from the United States [should] not come to British Columbia,” said BC health minister Adrian Dix at a press conference, where three more Covid-19 deaths in the province were announced. They bring the national toll to four, all occurring in the same BC nursing care facility.

Dix urged Trudeau to add Americans engaged in “non-essential traffic” to the border ban.

Trudeau said the travel restrictions “will not apply to commerce or trade”. “We will continue to ensure the supply of important goods to Canada,” he said.

“I know these measures are far-reaching. They are exceptional circumstances, calling for exceptional measures.”

Trudeau said he had informed fellow G7 members of the new Canadian measures.

The prime minister, whose wife tested positive for Covid-19 last week, emerged from medical self-isolation to announce the raft of measures that also included ordering airlines to ban anyone showing symptoms of the disease.

Wife of Canadian PM Trudeau tests positive for coronavirus

“Anyone with symptoms will not be able to come to Canada,” Trudeau said.

Starting on Thursday, foreign flights will be redirected from smaller international airports to Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal or Calgary.

Trudeau spoke outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, where he has been sequestered with his children since Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tested positive for the virus on Thursday. His self-isolation is due to last two weeks.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Monday, when he announced that Canada is closing its borders to foreign travellers, except Americans. Photo: AFP

An assistance programme for asymptomatic Canadians abroad who wish to return home is also being introduced, Trudeau said. This initiative would include funds to get them home and cover the cost of other “basic needs”.

“If you’re abroad, it is time for you to come home … while it is still possible to do so,” Trudeau told Canadians overseas, telling them they would have to submit to 14 days of self-isolation. Canadians should not engage in any non-essential travel until further notice, he said.

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The prime minister said the “window is closing” to control the spread of Covid-19.

“All Canadians, as much as possible, should stay home,” he said. “By staying home, you not only protect your health and that of those around you, but ensure that our health care professionals and our systems can focus on those who need their help.”

“This is an adjustment for all of us,” he added. “But we know staying home is an important step to protect the community and each other. We all have to do it.”

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, said she was “strongly recommending” the closure of all bars, dine-in restaurants, nightclubs and theatres, as of 12.01am on Tuesday.

Compulsory closure orders would be issued to establishments that did not apply, she said.

Canada has announced more than 400 cases of Covid-19.

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