Politics

Government warns against all international travel, limits inbound flights to stop spread of COVID-19

The federal government is warning against all international travel and is limiting inbound flights as part of a series of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Financial measures will also be announced to help Canadians cope with the economic fallout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference while in self-isolation at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa Friday, March 13, 2020. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The federal government is warning against all international travel and is limiting inbound flights as part of a series of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau detailed the new measures during a news conference Friday. Trudeau is in self-isolation due to the confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis for his wife, Sophie.

Trudeau said that, aside from the sweeping travel advisory, the government is also taking steps to prevent infections.

"We are looking to reduce the number of airports that will accept travellers from overseas in order to be able give the proper resources on all arrivals to ensure we're doing everything we can to keep Canadians and Canada safe," he said.

We're also, obviously, looking at countries of origin and further measures we can take. We will make those decisions based on the best science, the best recommendations of our health officials."

Watch: Dr. Tam advises against all international travel

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam says that Canada is now advising against all international travel to limit the spread of the virus. She warns that travellers could be subject to another country's travel or quarantine restrictions, and if they become sick, could be in a health care system that is inferior to Canada's system. 2:37

A group of federal ministers and health officials also held a news conference today.

They announced a series of other new measures to limit the spread of COVID-19:

  • International flights will only be permitted to land at a smaller number of airports. Those locations have not yet been announced.
  • Boats and cruise ships carrying more than 500 people will be banned from docking at Canadian ports until July.
  • All travellers arriving in Canada from international points are being asked to consider self-isolating for 14 days as a precaution. People arriving from Hubei province in China, Iran and Italy already have been asked to self-isolate.
  • Enhanced screening measures at airports as well as marine, land and rail points of entry.

The airports that will be permitted to take inbound flights have not been identified, and Transport Minister Marc Garneau said discussions on that measure are underway.

"We're working out the specific airports at this time, but we believe that this is a precaution that we should take so that we concentrate overseas international passengers coming into Canada to a smaller number of airports," he said.

'Critical time of containment'

Health Minister Patty Hajdu called it a "critical time of containment" and explained the move to warn against all international travel.

"We've had a very good, solid effort at containing the spread of the disease in Canada. But given that there is increased travel happening over the next several weeks, and given that we're at a critical time in keeping our cases down, this is the determination that public health has provided us ..." she said.

For many provinces, the annual spring break is set to begin next week.

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam confirmed that Canada is now advising against all international travel to limit the spread of the virus. She warned that travellers could be subject to another country's travel or quarantine restrictions, and if they become sick, they could find themselves in a health care system inferior to Canada's system.

Tam also urged Canadians to take extra steps to limit the spread of the virus.

"One way to do that is through social distancing. Social distancing is an important contribution that everyone can make to our control efforts," she said during a press conference this morning.

"This means avoiding crowded places and non-essential gatherings, considering shopping or taking public transport in off-peak hours and greeting one another with a wave or elbow instead of a handshake, kiss or hug. Where possible, increase social distancing with others to two arms' length, approximately two metres."

Watch: Overseas international flights to be limited to certain airports: Garneau

Transport Minister Marc Garneau says overseas international flights will be limited to certain airports, with more details expected to come soon. 1:16

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said enhanced screening measures at all points of entry to Canada will help both prevent infections and also discourage visitors from coming here if it's not necessary.

"It is important, not only Canadians as they travel abroad, but also others who would choose to come to Canada, that they avoid unnecessary travel, non-essential travel to this country. And if they do have to come here they will be subject to significantly enhanced screening," he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday evening that the U.S. was banning travellers from most parts of Europe, the same day the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak a pandemic.

The State Department also issued a global health advisory cautioning U.S. citizens to "reconsider travel abroad" due to COVID-19.

In a White House press conference on Friday, Trump said there was no talk whatsoever about closing the Canadian border when he spoke by phone with Trudeau.

"We didn't discuss the border," Trump said. "We've had a very good relationship. They've just about finished with the USMCA (the new North American free trade deal)."

U.S. President Donald Trump says he did not discuss the Canada/U.S. border when he spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 0:43

He said Trudeau called to inform him of the pending passage of the new trade deal in Ottawa, and that was the primary reason for the conversation.

He said he was also surprised to hear about Sophie Trudeau's illness — because in the call, he said, the prime minister suggested he doubted her test would come back positive.

"A wonderful lady. Great lady," he said of Sophie.

There are now 180 presumed or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada. Trudeau is in self-isolation at home because his wife, Sophie, has tested positive.

Income supports

During an interview with Radio-Canada's Montreal morning show on Friday, Trudeau said the government is not closing the door to any ideas and is assessing the situation on a day-to-day basis.

Asked if the government will close the Canadian border, Trudeau said, "We are in the midst of looking at this. We're in the midst of evaluating day-to-day what to do.

"As you've seen, there are recommendations not to travel outside of Canada. We're in the midst of co-ordinating with the Americans, obviously, on our borders, on our actions. We'll continue to evaluate what we can do and how we can keep Canadians in security and we won't close the door on any idea."

Trudeau said the government is also considering income-support measures to ensure people aren't worried about money when concerned about their own health and the health of their loved ones.

"We're going to be putting in place measures to support people to make sure that they can make ends meet, that they can focus on their families while we're going through a very difficult time economically," Trudeau told Matt Galloway, host of CBC Radio's The Current, earlier Friday.

On the border, Trudeau said steps that have been taken to date have "worked quite well" in limiting the number of cases; additional measures may now be required.

"We seem to be approaching a different phase right now and we will make sure that we follow all the advice of our very top experts," he said.

Parliamentarians are deciding today whether to take the unprecedented move of suspending Parliament because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MPs voted this morning to temporarily close the House of Commons and postpone the release of the federal budget over concerns about the spreading COVID-19 pandemic.

All parties agreed to a motion adjourning the House of Commons until at least April 20. That suspension can be extended as needed. The measure effectively wipes two sitting weeks from the calendar, since MPs already had planned to be away next week and for another two weeks in April.

The motion also passed the bill to implement the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement on trade (CUSMA), or NAFTA 2.0 as it is often known. The Senate voted to pass the bill this morning and it now awaits royal assent to become law.

The provinces have already made moves in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. The Ontario government has decided to shut schools and upcoming jury trials, while Alberta's chief medical officer of health is recommending cancelling all public gatherings of more than 250 people.

Trudeau also spoke to provincial and territorial premiers about COVID-19 this afternoon over the phone after the first ministers meeting was cancelled. 

On The Current, Trudeau confirmed he is still showing no symptoms of the virus and has been working from home speaking with cabinet ministers and other world leaders. His wife is following the advice of doctors to get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids, he said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau celebrates with his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, at the election night headquarters in Montreal after winning a minority government last October. The Prime Minister's Office says Grégoire Trudeau has tested positive for COVID-19. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Hajdu said experts suggested the coronavirus could infect 30 to 70 per cent of the population. The World Health Organization (WHO) has formally declared the outbreak a pandemic.

The government issued a wide-ranging tender Thursday asking suppliers for products and services to fight the outbreak. Ottawa says it needs things like disposable surgical masks, gowns, hand sanitizer and nitrile gloves. 

It's also looking to hire more nurses and security guards.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau detailed the new measures during a news conference Friday. Trudeau is in self-isolation due to the confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis for his wife, Sophie.   23:22

With files from the CBC's Alex Panetta, Catherine Cullen and Catharine Tunney

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