COVID-19: Canada-U.S. borderclosed to non-essential travel for indefinite period
OTTAWA — Canada and the U.S. are closing their border to most travellers for an indefinite period in the hopes of fighting the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
American president Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed on Wednesday morning to bar travellers crossing the world’s longest land border for “recreation and tourism” purposes.
Instead, only “essential” or “urgent” travel will be permitted for the foreseeable future, as well as the transit of goods. The government did not immediately specify what constitutes essential travel.
“I spoke to president Donald Trump this morning, and we have agreed that both Canada and the United States will temporarily restrict all nonessential travel across the border,” Trudeau told reporters Wednesday.
“In both our countries, we’re encouraging citizens to stay home. This collaborative and reciprocal measure is an extension of that,” he added.
At the same briefing, the prime minister announced an economic aid package totalling $27 billion in direct support to Canadians, as well as $55 billion worth of tax deferrals and other measures, to combat the COVID-19 global pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people, as well as $2.7 billion in goods and services, cross the 8,891 kilometre-long border between the U.S. and Canada daily. The U.S. is by far Canada’s most important trading partner.
With food, medical supplies and all other essential goods flowing constantly between both countries, the Trudeau government moved to assure people that these supply chains would remain unimpeded. “These restrictions will in no way impede trade between Canada and U.S.,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said.
These restrictions will in no way impede trade between Canada and U.S. -
“The Canada-US border is the symbol of an unprecedented partnership. Every day, $2.7 billion-worth of goods and trade passes the border every day, and that trade is essential to both our countries. Our business and way of life depend on that flow,” added Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair.
Wednesday, the prime minister would not say when this border measure would be lifted. He also kept the door open to more drastic measures, such as prohibiting travel within Canada and even a country-wide lockdown.
“We are looking at all options, we are not taking anything off the table. We will continue to look at measures as they become necessary. I will highlight that the Emergency Measures Act is a significant step. Not one we believe we need right now, but one we are considering,” Trudeau said.
One thing is certain, these measures are unprecedented and will have a significant impact on both countries’ economies, says Robert Falconer, a researcher specializing in immigration and border issues at the University of Calgary.
“This is massive. We’ve never had an indefinite closure like this in the history of confederation. Visa-free travel between Canada and the United States has been a founding part of our relationship. Even after the 9/11 attack, Canada and the U.S. kept cross border traffic going during that period,” Falconer told the National Post.
According to Statistics Canada, 25 million Americans travelled to Canada in 2019, and Canada-U.S. travel-related transactions are worth over $37 billion.
“I’m not concerned about essential supply chains like food and manufacturing. What I’m more worried about is business that involves two companies from either country meeting. That kind of interpersonal business will be extremely limited”, Falconer told the National Post.
The joint US-Canada announcement will likely come as a relief to the growing chorus of Canadian public health officials who have expressed Trudeau addresses border closure concern about increased spread of the COVID-19 virus in Canada, coming from Americans. On Monday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix blasted the Trudeau government for not yet closing the U.S. border, all the while asking Americans to stop visiting the province.
This week, Quebec premier François Legault also said he’d prefer not to have any American tourists visiting Canada for the time being.
When faced with questions regarding the irregular border crossing at Roxham Road near Lacolle, Quebec, Trudeau said all asylum seekers would be quarantined for 14 days. But he stopped short of saying the passage would be closed off by police.
“All the measures are being taken to make sure the situation is under control and that anyone who passes through there is quarantined for 14 days.
” These measures were also announced as Canada closed its other borders to most non-citizens outside of the U.S., as announced by the prime minister on Monday. As of noon Wednesday, only Canadian citizens and permanent residents, diplomats and flight crews were allowed to come and go.
Meanwhile, Trudeau said the financial aid package from his government to tackle the crisis includes a wage subsidy for small-business owners to help keep staff on the payroll during the slowdown. Any Canadians who learn they owe taxes will now have until August 2020 to pay them.
The federal government is planning to boost the Canada Child Benefit to help parents cover the cost of child care or other impacts of having to at home.
Other measures include a GST credit for low-income Canadians, boosting support for shelters to help those escaping gender-based violence and a six-month moratorium on student loan repayments.
Later on Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the head of the Bank of Canada provided further details of the federal government’s economic supports to see the country through the shock.
Morneau said the government is hoping to roll out the direct economic aid within three weeks. He said if it can be done earlier than that, it will be.
He said the government is working to find ways to make sure delivery of the plan works.
Ottawa’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux pointed out Wednesday that new spending under the Liberals’ aid package is $27 billion, not $82 billion as has been reported widely. The $82 billion figure is mostly made up of tax deferrals and other measures that, while helping people and businesses, do not actually inject new money into the broader economy.