Anyone showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus will be banned from boarding domestic flights and intercity passenger trains, the prime minister announced at a press conference Saturday.
Speaking from outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the federal government has now formalized its updated rules for domestic travel across Canada.
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“As of Monday at noon, people showing any signs whatsoever of COVID-19 will be denied boarding at all domestic flights and intercity passenger trains.”
His announcement came during an update on Canada’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Asked why buses and coaches that also travel across provincial lines were not subject to the same measures, Trudeau responded that the new restrictions would only apply to industries that are under federal jurisdiction.
“Some industries are not under federal jurisdiction but we do recommend and in fact we are putting rules in place to make sure people do not take any trips anywhere if they have COVID-19 symptoms,” said Trudeau.
A press release detailing the new measures also mentioned that the restrictions would require all air operators and intercity rail companies to do a “health check,” and screen their passengers before they come on board.
The screening would include health questions and looking for visible symptoms of illness. Travellers who are denied from boarding their plane or train will also be denied for at least 14 days, or until they show a medical certificate proving that their symptoms aren’t related to COVID-19.
According to the press release, the measures for rail travel do not apply to commuter trains.
Via Rail said it supports the new train travel restrictions and that it would “immediately put the necessary processes in place.”
“The new measures we are implementing will reinforce our efforts to protect the health and safety of our passengers and employees as we continue to provide the public service in the best possible conditions under those difficult circumstances,” Cynthia Garneau, president of VIA Rail Canada, said in a statement Saturday.
Effective March 31, Via Rail is operating one train per day in each direction on the following routes:
- Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa (services 22 and 39)
- Toronto-Kingston-Montreal (services 66 and 63)
- Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa (services 44 and 53)
- Toronto-London-Windsor (services 72 and 75)
- Toronto-London-Sarnia (services 87 and 84)
Via Rail is also operating one round trip per week on the following routes:
- Sudbury-White River
The Montreal-Halifax route, Toronto-Vancouver route, and the Prince Rupert-Prince George-Jasper route remain suspended until May 1.
During an update from federal ministers on Canada’s response to the virus, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that cases in the country have now topped 5,000.
Tam also said that as of now, over 184,000 people in Canada have been tested for the disease.
Seven per cent of cases need hospitalization, three per cent are critically ill and 1 per cent of cases so far have been fatal, according to Tam, who gave an update on its severity.
“Because although there will be day-to-day fluctuations, a sustained trend of increased severity could point to a higher rate of infection in vulnerable populations, or the health system is being overwhelmed,” said Tam.
“I am reminding Canadians not to underestimate the severity of this disease. The devastating impacts of COVID-19 is evident in Europe and parts of the United States.”
Tam also reminded Canadians to maintain their “bubble” of protection against the virus.
“Each of us should ideally have our own separate bubble that is a two-metre circumference around us,” said Tam. “But the important thing is to stay in our bubble and not burst someone else’s.”
Trudeau’s announcement follows the conclusion of his 14-day self-isolation, which started after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
“Sophie is feeling great. My family is doing well, my kids and myself, we’re all, we’re all doing well,” said Trudeau, who said he would continue to work from home.
“But like I said, we’ve asked people to stay home and work from home as much as possible, not go out if, if they should, don’t have to and that certainly is something that we’re doing and encouraging.”
Trudeau also announced on Friday that federal wage subsidies for small and medium-sized businesses affected by the virus outbreak would jump to 75 per cent.
The prime minister had previously announced a 10 per cent wage subsidy, but conceded that it wasn’t enough.
“It’s becoming clear that we need to do more — much more — so we’re bringing that percentage up to 75 per cent for qualifying businesses,” Trudeau told reporters. “This means people will continue to be paid even though their employers have to slow down or stop their businesses.”
Meanwhile on Friday, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer said Canada’s fight with COVID-19 is far from over, and that it could include a second wave.
Dr. Howard Njoo said Canada is in it “for the long haul.”
“It’s definitely months. Many months,” Njoo estimated Friday as the number of novel coronavirus cases in Canada surged.
Trudeau also provided an update to the federal government’s efforts to repatriate 248 Canadians who were stranded on cruise ship off the coast of Panama.
According to a statement from the cruise ship operator, Holland America, at least two passengers on board the MS Zaandam have tested positive for COVID-19 and another 53 guests and 85 crew have flu-like symptoms.
Trudeau said that Global Affairs was “single-mindedly” focused on what he called the “Herculean” task to bring those Canadians home.
“Much of it involves negotiating with other countries to get permissions for cruise ships to dock, permissions for airplanes to lift off from their country when they’ve closed the airspaces,” he said.
Global Affairs Canada (GAC) also offered an update on Friday, saying four flights repatriating citizens from Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador were set to arrive in Canada.
Additional flights repatriating Canadians from Spain and Poland were also set to arrive on Friday.
“We are working to help as many Canadians as possible return home, but some may remain outside of the country for an indeterminate amount of time,” the release reads.
According to GAC, as of Friday, more than 411,400 Canadians had registered abroad.
But, because registration is voluntary, GAC said it is “not a complete picture of Canadians outside the country.”
GAC said as of Friday, 232 emergency loan applications had been approved, with an additional 800 applications being processed.
–With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly, Maryam Shah, and The Canadian Press