Canada-U.S. border to close as early as Friday; millions overseas trying to return home

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that he expected the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to take effect overnight on Friday and was working with domestic carriers to bring home citizens stranded overseas.

Canada, which closed its borders this week to most foreign nationals, agreed with the United States to close their shared border to “non-essential traffic” to curb transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Canada to date has 801 cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and 10 deaths. Some 55,000 people have been tested across the country so far, Chief Medical Officer Theresa Tam said.

“What continues to concern us is the day-by-day sharp increase in cases and the reports from provinces of new cases with no links to travel,” Tam told reporters.

Globally, there over 236,000 infections and more than 9,700 deaths.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, 49, went into self-isolation after showing “new, flu-like symptoms” and was awaiting test results.

Canada’s indigenous communities, already facing poor healthcare options, are closing their own lands’ borders to limit coronavirus exposure. [L1N2BC150]

The Canadian government said this week it would provide C$27 billion ($18.6 billion) in direct support to families and businesses affected by the virus.

It was also examining invoking the rarely used 1988 Emergencies Act, which would allow Ottawa to override provinces and restrict the movement of people and goods.

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Trudeau said on Thursday he may utilize the military to help with procurement of supplies and urged Canadians to keep practicing social distancing.

“These are difficult and extraordinary times in which Canadians are taking difficult and extraordinary measures,” Trudeau told reporters outside his house, where he is in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus.


Ottawa wants to accelerate procurement of medical supplies, officials said on Thursday, including more masks for healthcare workers.

“We have been able to get the swabs and the other things that the provinces needed,” Tam said. “There’s been a request at least, in the shorter term, for 7 million and we got suppliers to be able to cover about 75% of that.”

Ottawa has not received any requests for ventilators from provincial health authorities but has been acquiring some for its stockpile, Tam said.

Magna International Inc .TO>, a major Canadian automaker and contract manufacturer with operations around the world, has promised to help with the potential production of ventilators, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.

“We can’t rely on importing these ventilators,” said Ford. “We have the people, we have the capacity, and we’re going to start manufacturing in Ontario.”

A Magna spokeswoman said they “aren’t currently planning for this.”

Many of the more than 3 million Canadians based overseas want to return home, officials said on Thursday, and many would need government help as commercial flights become increasingly limited.

Air Canada (AC.TO) said on Thursday it was holding talks with Ottawa to operate charter flights from international destinations to bring back stranded Canadians.

The carrier plans to suspend most of its international and U.S. transborder flights by March 31 because of the travel restrictions.

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