Canada closes borders to foreign nationals, restricts most international flights to 4 airports

Avatar for Lisa GordonBy Lisa Gordon | March 16, 2020

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 50 seconds.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has just delivered a live update concerning Canada’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

CBC Image
Airlines have been instructed to refuse any travellers to Canada who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. CBC Image

Based on input from global health professionals and authorities, Trudeau said Canada is taking “increasingly aggressive steps” to prevent the spread of the virus. “As the situation evolves, our response is evolving.”

Among his announcements, it was revealed that only four Canadian airports will continue to accept international flights as of March 18: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. Exceptions are flights from Mexico, the Caribbean and the U.S., which for now will be allowed to land at their original destinations.

In addition, Canada is now closing its borders to people who are not Canadians or permanent residents — with some designated exceptions for aircrew, diplomats, and U.S. citizens. Trudeau said Canada is working in close co-operation with the United States to combat the spread of the virus — and for now its citizens will be allowed to enter the country — but he did not rule out closing Canada’s southern border in the future.

He emphasized current restrictions will not apply to commerce or trade.

On the airline front, all operators are now formally mandated to refuse transport to any travellers presenting COVID-19 symptoms.

“Air operators must complete a basic health assessment of every traveller,” said Trudeau. “Anyone who has symptoms will not be able to come to Canada. I know this will spark concern among Canadians travelling abroad.

“Let me be clear: If you’re abroad, it’s time for you to come home.”

Canadians who have symptoms and who are not allowed to return home will be provided with government assistance, said Trudeau.

The Prime Minister — whose wife has tested positive for the virus and who is currently under self-isolation — arrived several minutes late for his March 16 press conference, which was scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.

As of that morning, Canada had confirmed a total of 324 cases from coast to coast. Health officials implored Canadians to practice social distancing, with evidence indicating the virus is no longer restricted to those who have been travelling outside the country. Community transmission is already underway, according to experts.

To date, Canada has tested 25,000 patients for COVID-19 and those efforts continue.

“Over the past few days, we’ve seen COVID-19 spread around the world at an even faster pace,” said Trudeau. “Today I was on a call with our G7 partners to inform them of these important changes. From the beginning, we’ve informed our response with the latest science and advice from world health care professionals.”

Trudeau said he remains in close contact with provincial and territorial premiers and Indigenous leaders, and said the country’s $1 billion COVID-19 response fund includes support for provincial and territorial health care systems.

“Team Canada truly is coming together,” said deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland. “Together, we will meet this challenge.”

Referring to warnings from health experts, Trudeau emphasized that now is the time to act.

“That window is closing to prevent the spread — it’s time to take aggressive steps and take every precaution to keep people safe.”

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