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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, on March 11, 2020.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is exploring whether to close the Canada-U.S. border to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Trudeau made the comments in a radio interview with CBC today, just as the House of Commons – which is closing its doors for five weeks in an extraordinary effort to arrest the spread of the novel coronavirus – passed legislation to ratify the new North American trade deal.

The Senate then signed off on the bill to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement almost immediately, leaving royal assent as the final step before it becomes the law of the land. That is expected to happen before day’s end, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a news conference.

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Ratifying the agreement, long a cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s re-election hopes, could be a central element of Canada’s U.S. border strategy after the White House decision to block foreign nationals who recently visited Europe from setting foot on American soil.

“Canada is facing an unprecedented challenge from the coronavirus pandemic,” Freeland said. “Getting NAFTA done was something that was entirely within the power of Canadian legislators to do, and something we were able to do to help the Canadian economy at this challenging time.”

Business leaders and the provinces have been urging the federal Liberal government to resist pressure to close the border in the wake of Trump’s extraordinary travel ban, which takes effect tonight at midnight.

Once the USMCA legislation receives royal assent from Governor-General Julie Payette, a three-month period will begin to give the three countries time to hammer out the regulations that will govern the mechanics of the agreement.

Asked if the government will close the Canadian border, Trudeau – who is self-isolating at home after his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau tested positive for COVID-19 – 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.”

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