Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is asking Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside of the country and is not ruling out closing the border over concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mr. Trudeau issued the travel warning to Canadians on Friday from outside of his residence in Ottawa, where he is in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for the novel coronavirus. He made the recommendation as Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance issued an unprecedented directive barring all Canadian Armed Forces members from travelling internationally for three weeks in an attempt to control the outbreak.
On Friday, Canada’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose to 196, including 19 new cases in Ontario and 11 in B.C.
Mr. Trudeau said the government will also restrict international flights coming into Canada to a smaller number of airports and bring in additional screening measures for travellers. Asked if the government is considering closing the border over concerns about the virus, Mr. Trudeau said all options are on the table.
“We are not closing the door to any further steps, but we will make those decisions based on what science tells us,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau did not say if Canada would be suspending flights from Europe as the United States has done, but said Ottawa is co-ordinating closely with the U.S. on measures.
Speaking to reporters from Rideau Cottage, Mr. Trudeau said he is “feeling good” and following the advice of his doctor in not getting himself tested for the virus since he is not showing any symptoms. He is working from home.
Based on the advice from medical professionals, Mr. Trudeau said he is not getting tested and because he has no symptoms, he said “there is no risk for the people that I worked with this week.”
“As long as I do not show any symptoms at all, there is no value in having me tested,” Mr. Trudeau said.From a public health and resources standpoint, Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network, said it’s likely appropriate that the Prime Minister isn’t getting tested.
He said Mr. Trudeau’s chances of getting the virus are heightened but the Prime Minister is “already taking the appropriate precaution which is to self-isolate.”
In another Ottawa news conference, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland did not directly comment on the possibility of closing the Canada-U.S. border, instead stressing its importance as “an essential part of life."
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said people need to remember that “viruses don’t know borders."
“I think Canadians think that we can stop this at the border, but what we see is a global pandemic meaning that border measures actually are highly ineffective and in some cases can create harm,” she said, adding that travellers have found ways into other countries that have tightened their borders.
“Now that we see cases in Canada, borders become less important and the relationship with the United States is going to be critically important so that we can continue that work together.”
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the government has also decided to delay the beginning of the cruise-ship season to July. He said cruise ships carrying more than 500 people will not be able to stop in Canada until after July 1, and that they will re-evaluate the policy at that time. In the case of smaller cruise ships, including ferries, he said the government will implement additional health measures.
Dr. Sharkawy said Canada needs to take lessons from other countries, such as Italy, where he said measures were not taken early enough to restrict travel and identify cases. However, he said the public needs to resist panicking and realize “that this will run its course.”
“It’s worth taking measures that are erred on the side of extreme and over extreme, limiting people’s sense of luxury and convenience in order to preserve the welfare of our community as a whole,” he said.
At Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Friday morning, Sharon Vespa, who was headed to Cancun, Mexico, with her family, said she was not worried “in the least,” despite the Prime Minister’s advisory.
“I think there’s a lot of hype,” she said, noting that she works in a hospital and would be taking the recommended precautions.
Margaret Medeiros wiped down the check-in kiosk as soon as she arrived in the terminal. She had a flight booked to Florida, a quick one-day trip to escort her snowbird parents back to Canada. She agreed that the Prime Minister’s urging to cancel travel is good advice but, in her case, said she needed to make the trip to help her worried parents.
At Hamilton International Airport on Friday morning, Heather and Denny Ready arrived three hours early for their flight to Punta Cana, Mexico, fearing long lines or screening requirements – only to find the airport mostly quiet.
The retired couple had originally been scheduled to set sail on a cruise Sunday. But as news of the coronavirus ramped up last week, they ultimately decided to cancel. Within days of that decision, the cruise was cancelled altogether. With the week freed up, they still wanted to get away somewhere warm and settled on a week at an all-inclusive resort.
“We can’t live in fear forever,” Ms. Ready said, adding they packed Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer.
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