OTTAWA — Canada and the United States will close the border to non-essential travel to help slow the spread of COVID-19, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday.
Trump made the announcement in a tweet, confirming a CNN report that U.S. and Canadian officials are working on a deal that would apply new restrictions to the border, but ensure that business and trade can continue.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the news moments later in a news conference outside his Ottawa home, where he’s been in self-isolation since his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from London, U.K. last week.
“Travellers will no longer be permitted to cross the border for recreation and tourism,” Trudeau said, adding that both Canadians and Americans are encouraged to stay home.
“We’re telling our citizens not to visit their neighbours if they don’t absolutely have to. This collaborative and reciprocal measure is an extension of that prudent approach.”
Essential travel will be permitted to preserve supply chains between the two countries, Trudeau said. Trucking, for example, is considered essential.
“These supply chains ensure that food, fuel, and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border,” the prime minister said.
He did not specify how long the temporary border closure will last. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland later told reporters that further details on when and how long the temporary border rules will be in place will be finalized in “hours or days.”
“To anyone thinking of making a tourist or recreational trip across the Canadian-U.S. border, please don’t do it. It’s not good for your neighbours,” she said.
Significant border changes in 72 hours
The extraordinary move comes two days after Trudeau announced that U.S. citizens would be exempt from Canada’s closure of its borders to foreign travellers, in an effort to stem travel-related community transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Trudeau faced criticism of the American exemption over concerns about community transmission of the virus in light of a string of new COVID-19 diagnosed in Ontario with links to U.S. travel.
Speaking to White House reporters Wednesday, the U.S. president said his relationship with Trudeau, and between their two countries, is “very good.” Trump called the novel coronavirus an “invisible enemy.”
On Monday, the prime minister defended allowing Americans to continue to cross the border, saying that Canada puts the U.S. in a “separate category than the rest of the world” because of the integrated nature of the countries’ economies.
Trump said there was no “tipping point” in the last 72 hours that prompted the new, stricter border measures. “It’s just that we want to isolate from the same point. We don’t want people coming into contact because that’s the way we’re going to win this war. That is so important.”
The president reaffirmed the temporary border closures, except for the movement of essential supply chains, won’t affect trade. “It’s just something we thought would be good for both countries,” he said.
Before all federal parties agreed to suspend Parliament Friday, the new North American Free Trade Agreement was adopted and passed at third reading in the House of Commons before it was fast-tracked through the Senate, becoming law by the end of the day.
Earlier, Freeland echoed that nearly 200,000 people cross the land border on a daily basis, calling it a “lifeline” for both Canadians and Americans.
“We get our groceries thanks to truckers who drive back and forth across that border,” she told reporters Tuesday. “Very urgently needed medical supplies and medicines go back and forth across that border.”
It’s significant the agreement to close the border was arrived at mutually between the U.S. and Canada, according to Wilson Center Canada Institute Director Christopher Sands.
“That was not the approach taken by the United States with China nor Europe, and it is the fruit of nearly two decades of efforts by the United States and Canada after the Sept. 11 attacks to adopt a shared border management approach that is data-driven utilizing risk management to allocate personnel and technology to keep the border open to legitimate trade and travelers in an emergency.”
U.S. citizens no exception to Canadian 14-day quarantine
The prime minister and cabinet ministers have repeatedly urged Canadians abroad to return home while commercial flights are still available.
Canadians who are impacted by the pandemic and are unable to return home are eligible for a $5,000 emergency repayable loan. Global Affairs Canada says the money is intended to help pay for “life-sustaining needs while they work toward their return.”
Stricter travel rules were introduced this week in effort to reduce the number of travel-related confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada.
COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The first cluster of cases originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019.
Despite that city’s large-scale effort to lock down its more than 11 million residents to contain the virus, it has now spread to more than 160 countries.
All international flights into Canada are now being redirected to four international airports in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. Domestic flights are not impacted. Flights between the Caribbean, Mexico, the U.S., and St. Pierre-et-Miquelon are also not affected by the new rules.
Most foreign nationals are now barred entry into Canada during the pandemic. Airline crew, diplomats, and immediate family members of Canadian citizens are currently exempt from the new restrictions. Anyone arriving from a foreign location, including the U.S., is expected to self-isolate for 14 days.
A U.S. state department spokesperson said Wednesday that Americans “showing no virus symptoms will continue to be able to travel to Canada.”
“Regardless of citizenship, no travelers exhibiting symptoms will be allowed to enter Canada,” the state department spokesperson said. “U.S. flights destined for Canada will still be routed to their original destinations, but U.S. citizen passengers will be subject to screening, as are all other travellers.”
Increased travel and social-distancing measures to “flatten the curve” are intended to reduce the initial influx of COVID-19 infections from overwhelming the peak operating capacity of the country’s health system.
In Italy, where inadequate early measures led to an explosion in cases, one doctor likened the outbreak in that country to a “tsunami that has overwhelmed us.”
There are now more than 201,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus across the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The virus has been linked to more than 7,400 deaths globally.
At least 598 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Canada as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the chief public health officer, and has been linked to eight deaths.
Public health emergencies have been declared in Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia over COVID-19 in Canada.
With files from Ryan Maloney, Althia Raj