In an aggressive move to stop the spread of COVID-19 cases in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that the federal government will be closing the country’s borders to people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
Exceptions to the ban will include air crews, diplomats, U.S. citizens (“at this time”), and the immediate family members of Canadian citizens.
In addition, all travelers to Canada showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be denied entry into the country, Trudeau said. He said flight operators would conduct health checks of each traveler before they were allowed to board a plane to Canada. Those health assessments would follow guidelines established by Public Health Canada.
“This means anyone with symptoms will not be able to come to Canada,” Trudeau said.
As of 9 a.m. on Mar. 16, Public Health Canada was reporting 341 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 across the country. Common signs of COVID-19 infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, according to the World Health Organization. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
“I know this news will spark concern among Canadians travelling abroad,” Trudeau said. “I want to assure you that our government will not leave you unsupported.” He said the government would establish an assistance program for Canadians travelling abroad that would cover essential costs for basic needs while waiting to return to the country. He did not provide any more details about the assistance program in his speech or in a Q&A session after the press conference.
As expected, starting Wednesday, Mar. 18, the federal government will restrict international air travel to the country through only four of the nation’s airports – Toronto Pearson International Airport, Calgary International Airport, Vancouver International Airport and Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. Domestic flights will not be affected.
As for Canadians who may wish to travel just to the mall, the gym, to see friends, or public gatherings, the message from the federal government was clear— stay home.
“All Canadians as much as possible should stay home,” Trudeau said in an address to the nation Monday. “This is an adjustment for all of us. We know that staying home is an important step to protect the community and each other. We all have to do it. But I want to remind Canadians that social distancing doesn’t mean we have to stop talking to each other. Pick up the phone, write an email, Facetime…Call your friends, check in with your family, think of your community.”
Several businesses have already made the move to send their workers home to work. In British Columbia, there is negotiation around a licensing requirement that Level I brokers cannot work from home. Insurance Brokers Association of B.C. (IBABC) has noted in social media posts that it is working on this issue.
Trudeau suggested that more announcements regarding further government measures to restrict the virus in Canada should be expected in the near future.
He further announced $10-billion of additional funding to support Canadian businesses. “This is a tool that has worked before in difficult circumstances, and we’re confident that it is going to work again. The economic impact of this pandemic is shifting hourly. We recognize the stress and anxiety it is causing. We are prepared to see Canadians through this time.”
North American stocks plummeted Monday, with the TSX composite index in Canada losing 1,569 points and the Dow Jones in New York dropping 2,250. Both plunges triggered automatic “circuit breakers” designed to shut down trading during times of heavy selling, as CBC reported online. “The halts mean both stock exchanges are shut down for at least 15 minutes for a breather in the hopes that investors will calm down.”
Investors remained spooked about the economic impact of COVID-19 despite the U.S. Federal Reserve announcing it would slash interest rates down to 0.25% – as close to zero interest rates as possible – and buy up $700 billion in U.S. government bonds in an effort to shore up U.S. consumer confidence to spend in an economy badly hit by the coronavirus.
Some U.S. economic analysts described the U.S. Federal Reserve measure as “throwing everything but the kitchen sink” into allaying investor fears about the economic impact of COVID-19.
Asked by reporters in a Q&A after his speech why U.S. was excluded from the travel ban, Trudeau said the integration of the Canadian economy with the American economy made the country a unique consideration, although he did not rule out further action if American COVID-19 cases continued to increase.