No more domestic travel by plane or train for those showing coronavirus symptoms, Trudeau says

Domestic travel by plane or train will soon be off the table for anyone exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Saturday, as part of additional measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the country.

It will be up to airlines and rail companies to enforce restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that restrictions on domestic travel by air and rail are on the way for any travellers exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Domestic travel by plane or train will soon be off the table for anyone exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Saturday, as part of additional measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 illness across the country.

The restrictions come into effect at noon ET on Monday and apply to anyone showing signs of the virus, which include a cough, fever and difficulty breathing.

Those travellers will no longer be able to travel by air or rail between provinces and cities anywhere in Canada. 

"It will be important for operators of airlines and trains to ensure that people who are exhibiting symptoms do not board those trains," Trudeau said during his daily address to Canadians. "It will be a Transport Canada rule that will be enforced, but at the same time, we're telling people stay home if it's not absolutely essential for you to travel."

The prime minister added that the federal government would be providing airlines and rail companies with "further tools" to bar those showing symptoms from getting on planes and trains. 

Companies to conduct health checks

To roll out the new measures, the Public Health Agency of Canada is providing guidance to air operators and rail companies on conducting health checks on passengers boarding flights and trains within Canada or departing from Canada. 

As of Monday, passengers can expect to be asked a number of health questions aimed at identifying the "visible signs of illness" and will be refused boarding should they present symptoms. 

According to a news release from Transport Canada, passengers will be denied boarding "for a period of 14 days, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms that the traveller's symptoms are not related to COVID-19."

The restrictions apply to aircraft with 10 seats or more, while commuter trains are exempt from the measures.

Intercity passenger rail operators subject to the additional screening include:

  • Via Rail Canada Inc.
  • Great Canadian Railtour Company Ltd.
  • Keewatin Railway Company.
  • Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.
  • White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.
  • Transport Ferroviaire Tshiuetin Inc.

Bus travel a provincial matter

Trudeau said that the new measures do not apply to bus travel between provinces, which is regulated by provincial and municipal governments. That means it's not mandatory for passengers to undergo any screening before boarding a bus. 

"We have been in touch with [bus companies] and recommended ... Public Health Agency of Canada procedures and protocols with respect to cleaning the bus, with respect to trying to keep people at physical distances from each other," said Transport Minister Marc Garneau in an interview with CBC News.

Garneau explained that it's up to the provinces to decide if they want to implement the measures, but said that he was told that "very few people" are embarking on bus trips between provinces right now. 

"We will be speaking to the provinces about this," Garneau said, adding that they "may want to consider" putting similar protocols in place for buses under their jurisdiction. 

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Njoo: 'We know people can hide symptoms'

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said details on how companies are expected to enforce the restrictions will be shared "in the coming days."

But screening at points of transit — whether border crossings, airports or train stations — isn't completely foolproof, cautioned Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer. 

"It's never a 100 per cent guarantee that we're going to stop further transmission of infection," he said.

Canada's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo cautioned Saturday that screening measures can only go so far when it comes to containing the spread of COVID-19. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Njoo said personnel at train stations and airports will be keeping an eye out for travellers who look "unwell,"  but conceded that it's possible to mask symptoms. 

"We know people can hide symptoms by, for example, taking a Tylenol to mask a fever," he said. "At the end of the day, I think it's not just the responsibility of governments, airline companies, train companies. It's a responsibility of every Canadian."

Garneau said that according to Canada's public health agency, people taking medication to reduce their fevers is one of the reasons why personnel screening passengers aren't recommended to use thermometers during the process. 

Caseload grows across the country

The number of cases in Canada grew to more that 5,500 on Saturday, though there is some evidence that Canadians staying at home and practising safe distancing is working to contain the spread.

British Columbia's health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday that according to modelling in the province, physical distancing restrictions are starting to slow the spread of new COVID-19 cases.

"I'm trying not to over-call it, but I do believe we've seen a flattening, a falling-off of that curve," Henry said. 

On Saturday, Trudeau called the prediction "promising news," but said it was not a reason for complacency.

Tam echoed the prime minister's words later in the day, along with her own warning.

"If the trends are slowing down a bit, our key message though is not to sort of relax. Our key message actually is to double down, absolutely double down, and that right now is an absolutely critical time," she said. "If you look at those numbers you realize that we're definitely not out of the woods and [we've] got to keep going."

Trudeau family continues to isolate

The prime minister's announcement Saturday comes as his own 14-day period of self-isolation concluded this week, though Trudeau said that, on the advice of medical professionals, he plans to continue working from home. 

"We've asked people to stay at home and work from home as much as possible and not go out if they don't have to," Trudeau said. "And that certainly is something that we're doing and encouraging."

His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, received a positive COVID-19 test result earlier this month following a visit to London.

"Sophie is feeling great. My family is doing well. My kids and myself...we're all doing well," the prime minister added.

With files from the CBC's Ashley Burke

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