Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that reopening the economy or easing restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border isn’t happening anytime soon and is still “many weeks” away.
Trudeau has urged Canadians to be patient and said for any reopening to occur, there has to be rapid COVID-19 testing on a wide-scale basis and extensive contact tracing in place to prevent against a potential second wave of outbreaks.
“I don’t think we can talk about reopening things until we are confident that we have exactly the plan on responding to future resurgences of the virus,” Trudeau said Thursday during his daily briefing.
Trudeau said there was still a “significant amount of time” before the two countries could loosen restrictions on non-essential across the border. An agreement between Canada and the U.S. to limit border crossings is due to expire in the coming days.
“The work that we continue to do to keep our citizens safe while coordinating very carefully is unlike our approaches with other countries around the world,” he said. “We will continue coordinating our efforts, collaborating, but the reality is we are still weeks away from being able to talk about softening these measures at the border or others.”
Trudeau also announced Thursday support for small and medium-sized businesses that pay commercial rent with a new program, called Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance. He said details of the program are still being worked out as Ottawa will have collaborate with the provinces.
The prime minister also reiterated his previous message that a complete return to normal won’t be possible until a vaccine is ready, which some experts have said is still 12-18 months away.
“It would be absolutely disastrous for us to open up too early or too quickly, and have another wave hit us that could be just as bad as this one, and find ourselves in the situation of having to go back into quarantine the way we are right now and have everything we’ve done these past weeks be for nothing,” Trudeau said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford shot back at Trump’s suggestion that he is looking at loosening restrictions at the border.
“Trudeau should say no right away,” Ford said Thursday. “Until we have this under containment, we need to have our borders closed.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has said he’s eager to start returning to normal life, even as his country grapples with an outbreak of the novel coronavirus that’s killed more than 28,000 people.
Trump told reporters Wednesday that Canada is “doing well” in its efforts to control the spread of the virus.
“Our relationship with Canada is very good — we’ll talk about that. It will be one of the early borders to be released,” Trump said. “Canada’s doing well, we’re doing well — so we’ll see.”
The two countries negotiated a mutual ban on non-essential travel in both directions in mid-March, an agreement that explicitly exempted the flow of trade and commerce, as well as frontline health care workers.
The agreement is currently scheduled to expire early next week.
Trump is expected to announce Thursday new guidelines for allowing some States to relax social distancing rules and reopen some non-essential businesses.
His administration has even floated a potential target of May 1 to begin re-opening parts of the economy, but some health experts have pushed back saying that could be too soon.
Both Canada and the U.S. have seen unemployment levels from the fallout of COVID-19 comparable to the Great Depression.
Roughly six million people have now applied for government help since mid-March as non-essential businesses were shuttered and workers told to stay at home to ease the spread of the virus. In the U.S. more than 22 million have lost their jobs in just four weeks.
Canada passed a grim milestone of 1,000 deaths on Wednesday, but the country’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said there is evidence the epidemic’s rate of spread is slowing.
Tam said the number of cases in the country is now doubling every 10 days or so, compared to every three days near the end of March.
However, she warned that it still too early to begin easing social distancing measure and said that emerging from COVID-19 would “be like making our way down the mountain in the darkness.”
“We mustn’t rush or let go of our safety measures, or the fall will be hard and unforgiving,” she said in her daily briefing in Ottawa. “Any break in our resolve could spark a new outbreak and delay our progress … let’s maintain our collective resolve and crush this curve.
*With files from the Associated Press