The Canada-U.S. border will likely be closed to non-essential travel by Friday night as the two countries move quickly to curtail the rapid spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
“We are working on the final details with the U.S. but we expect the measures to come into effect sometime during the night between Friday and Saturday… in about a day and a half,” Trudeau told reporters from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, where he is under self-isolation after his wife tested positive for the virus last week.
The ban on non-essential travel across the border was first announced Wednesday. Trudeau, who finalized the agreement in a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, said the decision came out of a need to follow public health advice.
There are exceptions to the ban, including aircrews, diplomats, and healthcare workers.
Trudeau made clear that “essential travel” won’t stop and that the new measures will not disrupt the flow of supply chains bringing essential goods like food, fuel, medicines and other services into either country.
That sentiment was echoed by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who said keeping the supply chain moving was vital to the $2.7 billion worth of goods that flow through the Canada-U.S. border daily.
She reiterated that on Thursday, adding that the government is working very hard to finalize details of the closure by Friday night.
It’s not yet known how long the border closure will be in place.
Trump previously suggested it could be about a month, but a hard timeline isn’t likely, as the global health emergency remains fluid.
As for those Canadians still abroad, Trudeau said the government is working with national telecommunications companies to send information about consular services via text message.
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A support program to assist asymptomatic Canadians seeking to return home is in the works. The new COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad will allow those abroad to apply for an emergency loan of up to $5,000 to secure their return to Canada and cover other needs during the increasingly difficult process.
He added that talks with WestJet and Air Canada are underway to help facilitate flights to bring Canadians home.
“We want to make sure that everyone has the information they need. There is a great deal of false information, misinformation circulating, and we want to make sure people know how to get help,” he said.
“Canadians can come home and should come home. Those having difficulty coming home, we’re doing everything we can to help.”
On Wednesday, Trudeau also announced that the federal government would free up $82 billion in direct spending and deferred taxes to help Canadians endure the pandemic.
The financial aid package includes additions to the Canada Child Benefit payment, tax credits for Canadians with low and middle incomes, a wage subsidy for small businesses to keep staff on payroll, new emergency benefits for those who don’t currently qualify for employment insurance and a hold on Canada Student Loan payments for six months.
“That help for Canadians will be flowing in the coming weeks,” he said.
“We recognize that this is a difficult time in terms of getting these new programs in place quickly enough to help Canadians. That is why I’m going to be working with the public service to ensure that all our efforts are focused on supporting Canadians through this difficult time.”
A separate fund will help Indigenous communities in Canada, and new support will be provided for homeless shelters.
The government intends to briefly recall Parliament to approve legislation that would make the funding available. Parliament was adjourned on March 13 until April 20 but is expected to resume sometime next week.
Trudeau suggested that it could be “weeks to months” before Canadians can relax the social-distancing measures being encouraged to fight the virus.
He said the measures will not be lifted until health experts believe it’s safe to do so.
“We will get through this together,” Trudeau said. “Whether you need more time to repay a student loan or whether you’re a farmer worried about your income, we’re there for you and we will continue to do everything we can to help you.”
— With files from the Canadian Press