Canadians should postpone or cancel any plans for non-essential travel abroad as government and health officials step up their fight to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.
Incoming air travel will also be restricted to landing at certain airports and all cruise ships carrying over 500 passengers are barred from docking in Canada until later in the summer.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in a press conference on Friday that there are now 157 cases of the virus in Canada and that the time has come for Canadians as well as event organizers to cancel their plans and limit their social interactions.
“My advice is to postpone or cancel all non-essential travel outside of Canada. This means reconsidering your vacations,” Tam said. “By making the choice to stay at home and not travel outside of Canada, you are protecting yourself, your family and doing your part to slow the spread of the virus.”
Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief of public health, said the Public Health Agency of Canada is changing its recommendation now because of several recent developments in the global response to the virus.
“What’s happened recently is more and more countries have been involved and the WHO has declared a global pandemic,” he said.
“Now, cases are also being reported in Canada having had travel to the United State and Europe and that’s why now, we’re at the point of changing our advice.”
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the country is in a “critical time” right now to try to “flatten the curve,” or slow the rate of transmission in order to avoid overwhelming the public health system’s ability to respond and treat patients.
She also added the warning against travel outside of Canada is because of both the risk of potential transmission and the risk of being stranded in a country that shuts down its own borders or whose public health system cannot handle the number of cases.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the government is also taking additional measures to ban cruise ships carrying more than 500 people from stopping in Canada until July 1, 2020. That comes on the heels of a warning from Tam not to travel on cruise ships.
“These decisions were not easy to make,” he said. “We are aware of the impacts they will have.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair was also at that press conference and said the government is going to restrict international arrivals to land only at certain airports in an effort to try to concentrate screening and border security resources.
The announcements came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted in an interview with CBC’s The Current on Friday morning that such measures were coming.
He said much of the power right now rests on Canadians themselves but that the government was also considering urging against any foreign travel.
“Instead of feeling completely powerless, Canadians do have a capacity to affect how this unfolds in Canada and, to a certain extent, around the world,” he said.
“We are looking at making a recommendation that people not travel outside the country except for exceptional purposes. That’s an announcement that will likely come later today.”
Trudeau gave the interview from his home in Ottawa, where he is in isolation for the next 14 days.
His wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for the new coronavirus on Thursday.
Trudeau said he is feeling fine and has no symptoms.
He was asked several times about why he is not being tested for the coronavirus given his wife has tested positive.
In particular, he was asked whether he was concerned he could have transmitted the virus without having any symptoms given he was also at a conference in Toronto where an attendee tested positive for the virus.
“We did discuss that with the public health authorities and the fact that I have no symptoms whatsoever of the coronavirus means that, according to them, there is no risk for the people I might have worked with over those days,” he said.
Public health officials around the world are grappling with the spread of the new virus, which has infected more than 135,000 people worldwide and killed 4,981.
In Canada, there are 138 confirmed cases and one death.
The Canadian military said on Thursday night its members are no longer allowed to travel internationally for work or personal travel.
In a directive circulated to members, Lt.-Gen. Jean-Marc Lanthier said he was speaking on behalf of Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance in informing members that as of Friday, there military was rescinding any authorizations members may have received to travel abroad.
“It is recognized that the execution of this direction will be messy and complex,” Lanthier acknowledged.
The military said some exceptional circumstances will be evaluated.
Vance had said earlier in the month that the military was shifting to pre-pandemic preparedness mode to get ready for any requests it could receive to assist in the response to the outbreak, which the World Health Organization has now declared a pandemic.