Justin Trudeau announces sweeping steps to tackle coronavirus in Canada

  • Prime minister delivers address from self-imposed quarantine
  • Parliament shuttered and curbs on international travel

Canada has unveiled aggressive new measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, shutting down parliament and advising against foreign travel, even as Justin Trudeau urged citizens to remain calm in a national address delivered from self-imposed quarantine.

“We have an outstanding, we have outstanding public health authorities who are doing an outstanding job. We will get through this together,” said the prime minister, who has been in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday.

In his address on Friday, Trudeau said he remained symptom free. “Of course, [working from home] is an inconvenience and somewhat frustrating. We are all social beings after all,” he said. “But we have to do this because we have to protect our neighbours and our friends – especially our more vulnerable seniors and people with pre-existing conditions.”

Officials announced a raft of new measures including closing parliament for five weeks and redirecting incoming international flights to a small number of airports as part of enhanced screening measures. The government also announced it will ban cruise ships with 500 people from docking in the country’s ports until 1 July – but stopped short of closing the borders.

“Borders don’t stop travellers. Travellers find other ways into countries. Travellers become less honest,” said Patty Hajdu, the county’s health minister. “Canada’s approach from the very beginning has been to use science and evidence.”

Instead, the government has asked Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside the country and to limit contact with crowds.

“Social distancing is an important contribution that everyone can make to our control efforts,” said Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer. “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.”

So far, Canada has conducted more than 15,000 tests and has 157 confirmed cases of the virus, most of which have been found in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, she said.

Despite the relatively low number of cases, the federal government and provinces have acted swiftly in recent days.

British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec have all banned events larger than 250 people. Ontario, the country’s most populous province, will close schools for two additional weeks following spring break, as will Quebec.

Late on Friday, officials in Toronto, the country’s largest city, announced the closure of all child care facilities, public libraries and community centres. They also announced the surprise cancellation of all spring break camps and urged residents to reconsider taking public transit.

“The actions you take today will save lives,” Hajdu said. “This is a serious public health threat, and a crisis as well as an emergency.”

Experts cautioned that no clear blueprints yet exist on now to stem the spread of the virus — but said that certain measures have shown degrees of success.

“There’s no complete science behind any of it really — but it’s worthwhile to explore different ways of trying to control things,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of prevention and control at Toronto’s university health network.

“That’s where the social distancing makes sense to consider doing it early and trying to reduce the overall impact on everybody.”

As the country prepares for an economic slowdown, driven by both the coronavirus and a plunge in oil prices, Trudeau said his government plans to green-light a wide-scale economic stimulus plan in the coming days.

“We are in the enviable position of having significant fiscal firepower available,” he said.

Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenny, has called on the federal government to announce a stimulus of at least C$20bn (US$14.3bn) – roughly 1% of the country’s gross domestic product – to offset the looming economic impact of the virus.

“We need to design policies that will really help liquidity and cashflow for businesses that are uniquely affected right now,” he said on Thursday.

The prime minister has not yet put a figure on the stimulus plan, but said the action will target Canadians who are most vulnerable to a downturn.

“No one should have to worry about paying rent, buying groceries, or additional childcare because of Covid-19. We will help Canadians financially.”


Leyland Cecco in Toronto

The GuardianTramp

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