Coronavirus: Canada-U.S. border closure coming; B.C. declares state of emergency

The latest:

A federal economic aid package worth $82 billion was unveiled Wednesday to help Canadian workers and businesses weather the COVID-19 storm, which came as Canada and the U.S. agreed to temporarily close their shared border to non-essential travel.

In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said workers who don’t qualify for employment insurance can apply to receive the Emergency Support Benefit every two weeks for 14 weeks.

He said applicants can include those who are placed in quarantine or have to self-isolate, those who are ill with the coronavirus infection, and those who must stay home to care for someone with COVID-19.

The program is also for those who must stay home from work to care for children, as well as those who are without paid sick leave or similar workplace accommodation, the government said online.

The federal government will provide up to $27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses, plus $55 billion to meet the liquidity needs of Canadian businesses and households through tax deferrals to help stabilize the economy.

The response plan includes longer-term income support for Canadians who lose their jobs or face reduced hours as a result of COVID-19.

Earlier Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump and Trudeau announced the unprecedented decision to partially close the border. Trudeau said it will affect tourists and shoppers, but goods will continue to move across the border during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, British Columbia joined Ontario in declaring a provincial state of emergency, allowing them to protect their supply chains. QuebecAlbertaP.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador have all declared public health emergencies. The Northwest Territories and Yukon also joined them Wednesday, though no cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the territories yet.

The number of confirmed and presumptive cases in Canada has risen to 648, with nine deaths — seven in B.C, one in Ontario and one in Quebec.

For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. However, for older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus in a matter of weeks.

Efforts to slow the spread of the virus are being ramped up as the number of cases worldwide approaches 200,000 in more than 160 countries.

WestJet warning for recent flights

WestJet says some of its passengers may have been exposed to others infected with the coronavirus on 14 recent flights between Feb. 28 and March 12.

The airline said on its website that public health officials are recommending people who sat in certain rows to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival and monitor symptoms, which could include fever, cough and trouble breathing. It says passengers in affected rows are considered close contacts to those infected and could be at risk of exposure.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s top public health official, tweeted on Tuesday that about 42,000 people in Canada have been tested for the virus.

“So we’re doing OK, we’re ramping up quickly, but we just don’t have enough tests right now,” Canadian respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta told CBC News on Wednesday.

WATCH | More on testing and the 1st COVID-19 vaccine trials:

Though concerned about the availability of ventilators in Canada, Dr. Samir Gupta is encouraged by the first COVID-19 vaccine trials. 5:45

Canada is conducting about one-fifth as many tests per capita as what has been carried out in South Korea, Gupta said, “so we need to get there.”

He said the Canadian health-care system is largely testing people who have symptoms of COVID-19, have known exposure to someone with the virus, or have travelled to hotspots. Ideally, testing would be available to anyone with symptoms of a cold, he said.

In the U.S., the government is considering a stimulus plan worth at least $850 billion, which could include sending direct payments to Americans. Trump’s proposal would include $250 billion US for small businesses and $50 billion US for airlines.

WATCH | Trump says Americans will defeat COVID-19

U.S. President Donald Trump says Americans will look back one day on this time and say, ‘we won.’ 1:01

The Trump administration is also considering a plan to turn back all people who cross the border illegally from Mexico, two administration officials said Tuesday, using powers they say the president has during pandemics like the coronavirus outbreak to mount what would be one of the most aggressive attempts to curtail illegal immigration.

The plan is under consideration and no final decisions have been made, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) called on countries to take a comprehensive approach to fighting the pandemic and to isolate, test and trace as many cases as possible.

“To suppress and control the epidemic, countries must isolate, test, treat and trace,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Otherwise, he said, transmission chains can continue at a low level and then resurface once distancing measures are lifted.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the provinces and territories

British Columbia officially declared a provincial state of emergency on Wednesday, with Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth calling for an “all-hands-on-deck approach.” It follows Tuesday’s declaration of a public health emergency. The province’s number of COVID-10 cases rose sharply to 186 on Tuesday, including seven people who have now died of the disease, six of whom are connected to an outbreak at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

A COVID-19 assessment centre in Brampton, Ont., is shown on Tuesday. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has declared a public health emergency, prohibiting gatherings of over 50 people. “This is a serious moment in our history, and COVID-19 will test all of us,” Kenney said. “But I believe I know that this province is resilient, and we are ready for the test.” Alberta legislators engaged in marathon deliberations Tuesday night as the government raced to approve a $57-billion budget for 2020. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

Saskatchewan has postponed the release of its full 2020-21 budget. The opposition had asked for the delay amid the pandemic and market turmoil, which has seen falling oil prices. The province has also closed pre-K-12 schools, starting Friday, though all parents who are able were asked to keep children home as soon as possible. Besides schools, Saskatoon and Regina have announced numerous closures, while the province is overhauling its 811 HealthLine to keep pace with demand for the telephone service. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

Manitoba announced seven new cases Tuesday, bringing the province’s total to 15. The province has enacted numerous restrictions, such as limiting acute-care centre visits to one visitor at a time and none at all at some seniors’ homes. There are currently four dedicated testing centres in Winnipeg, as well as one each in Thompson, Flin Flon and The Pas, with plans for more in rural areas soon. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

Empty shelves are pictured at a Superstore grocery store in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ontario said Wednesday that technical issues had caused a “service interruption” to its provincewide TeleHealth service — the main source for those requiring coronavirus information and direction. That came a day after the province confirmed its first COVID-19 related death, a 77-year-old man who was in close contact with an infected person. Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency, mandating the closure of restaurants and bars except for takeout and delivery. All casinos in the province are being closed, the LCBO is reducing its hours, and Metrolinx is reducing services starting later this week. In Ottawa, the city’s top doctor is recommending that people cancel events, and avoid going out for “non-essential” reasons, saying community transmission is likely taking place in the city. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario here. 

Quebec announced its first death from COVID-19 on Wednesday. The province declared a state of health emergency on Sunday and has increased its coronavirus testing capacity, from 1,600 to 6,000 as of Tuesday. “We will do that — test, test, test,” said Quebec’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda. Bars, clubs, gyms and movie theatres were ordered closed over the weekend, and the province’s rental board has suspended eviction hearings during the pandemic. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

This passenger was seen walking near the WestJet counter in Terminal 3 of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Wednesday morning. (CBC)

New Brunswick’s government sought to free up acute-care beds by moving 65 seniors waiting for nursing home placement out of hospitals. Premier Blaine Higgs announced Tuesday the move was to make way for an anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients, and that the seniors will temporarily be moved into a nursing home within 100 kilometres of their permanent address. Read more about what’s happening in New Brunswick here.

Prince Edward Island, which declared a public health emergency on Monday, announced a financial relief package to help support those in need. Minister of Social Development and Housing Ernie Hudson announced a $500,000 fund for community partners delivering services to Islanders. Premier Dennis King also earmarked $500 per week for self-employed Islanders who are significantly affected. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

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Nova Scotia indefinitely postponed elective surgeries, and is closing schools and daycares, which the premier cautioned could last for an extended period. “Our No. 1 priority will be the public’s safety and the health [and] safety of Nova Scotians and their children,” Stephen McNeil said over the weekend. In one nursing facility — home to some of the most vulnerable to the coronavirus — an office on the ground floor has been cleared out so residents and their loved ones can meet face to face, through a closed window.  Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia here.

Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport is seen nearly empty on Tuesday. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador declared a state of emergency Wednesday, and officials say new coronavirus-related restrictions will likely last into the summer. Health Minister John Haggie said that includes a reduction in hospital services, including the cancellation of all non-urgent appointments and surgeries. The school year may be done for the year, Haggie said Wednesday. Read more about what’s happening in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There are not yet any confirmed cases in Canada’s North. But both the Northwest Territories and Yukon declared states of emergency Wednesday.  Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, said between 100 and 200 people have been tested in that territory, but that “it’s taking up to six days to get test results.”

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday “COVID-19 has the potential to have a much greater impact” on the territory than elsewhere in Canada. Overcrowded housing is a key obstacle to keeping the community healthy, said Premier Joe Savikataaq. Read more about what’s happening in Canada’s North here.

Here’s a look at the latest numbers in Canada. Presumptive cases are individuals who have tested positive, but still await confirmation with the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

  • Ontario: 212 confirmed cases, up by 22 on Wednesday, including one death and five cases listed as resolved.*
  • British Columbia: 186 confirmed, including seven deaths and five cases listed as resolved.
  • Alberta: 97 confirmed.
  • Quebec: 94 confirmed, including 20 new cases announced Wednesday, and the first death in the province.
  • Saskatchewan: 14 presumptive, two confirmed.
  • New Brunswick: nine presumptive, two confirmed.
  • Manitoba: eight confirmed, seven presumptive. 
  • Nova Scotia: three confirmed, nine presumptive, including five announced Wednesday.
  • Prince Edward Island: one confirmed.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: three presumptive.
  • Canadians quarantined at CFB Trenton: nine confirmed.

*Ontario officials also counted a new case Wednesday that had been reported by Kitchener-Waterloo officials but had not yet been added to the official numbers.

Here’s what else is happening in the U.S.

From The Associated Press, updated at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Authorities say a New York man has been charged for allegedly threatening in a phone call to blow up an office building in New Rochelle where New York state set up its coronavirus testing command post.

The governor of Puerto Rico, where there have been five cases of COVID-19 and no fatalities, has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to temporarily halt all commercial passenger flights to and from the U.S. territory for two weeks to help curb the spread of the virus. The FAA did not immediately respond.

The White House has urged Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people for the next two weeks and has called for bars, restaurants and other venues to close in states where local virus transmission exists. It is also urging Americans to work from home, if possible, and to home-school their children.

Calling himself a “wartime president,” Trump said he would sign the Defence Production Act “in case we need it” to deal with an expected surge in cases of the virus. The law gives the president extraordinary authority to get industries to expand production and turn out vital materials.

A medical worker tests a person for the coronavirus at a drive-through facility in San Antonio, Texas, on Tuesday. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

West Virginia confirmed its first positive case Tuesday, meaning the virus has now been reported in all 50 states. Coronavirus infections across the country reached approximately 6,500 cases on Wednesday, with the death toll climbing to at least 114.

U.S. hotel executives, whose bookings have dried up, took their worries to the White House for a meeting with Trump on Tuesday.

“I personally lived through many crises, starting with the S&L (savings and loan crisis), the 9/11 crisis, the Great Recession,” said Hilton’s CEO, Christopher Nassetta. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years. Never seen anything like it.”

New York City, meanwhile, may soon compel most people to stay in their homes, except in emergencies or when shopping for essentials, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. 

Here’s what’s happening in Europe

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 1:45 p.m. ET.

The leaders of European Union nations have agreed to institute a travel ban that prohibits most foreigners from entering the bloc for 30 days. EU leaders agreed on Tuesday to shut down the 27-nation bloc’s external borders immediately.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the proposal by EU officials “got a lot of support by the member states. It’s up to them now to implement. They said they will immediately do that.”

The European Union said it was trying to help about 80,000 citizens stuck outside Europe get home, but that it faced huge challenges, including finding flights.

The virus case count in Europe has climbed to more than 64,000 infections and more than 3,108 deaths.

WATCH | EU bans non-essential travel within the bloc:

A collection of satellite and still images taken before and after the coronavirus outbreak reveal the extent of the shutdown across the globe. 0:37

In Italy, the hardest hit nation after China, infections jumped to 31,713 on Wednesday. With 2,978 deaths, Italy accounts for one-third of the global death toll and could surpass China in the number of deaths in the next day or two.

Italian authorities say too many people are violating last week’s national decree, which allows people to leave homes to go to workplaces, buy food or other necessities or for brief strolls outside to walk dogs or get exercise.

Spain, the fourth-most infected country, saw its cases soar by more than 2,000 in one day to 11,178. Virus-related deaths jumped to 491, a toll that included 17 elderly residents of a Madrid nursing home.

WATCH | Before-and-after images show global impact of coronavirus outbreak:

The European Union is set to ban all non-essential travel within its 26 countries today and French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed that as of noon Tuesday, the external borders of the EU will be closed, with certain exceptions.  4:30

In the U.K., where 71 people have died of the infection, the Glastonbury Festival has been cancelled this year due to the outbreak. Kendrick Lamar, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift and Diana Ross were set to headline the June festival.

Schools have not yet been closed but Prime Minister Boris Johnston said an announcement would be made “imminently.”

British cabinet ministers gathered at a COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms) meeting on Wednesday to discuss next steps in their strategy to tackle the virus. Among the measures, Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak said the government would provide 330 billion pounds ($560 billion Cdn) worth of government-backed loans and guarantees for small and large businesses. 

Ireland is expecting the number of cases there to skyrocket in the next few weeks. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he expects to see upward of 15,000 cases by month’s end, up from the current 223, and has advised against all non-essential overseas travel. Schools, universities, childcare centres and bars have also been closed. 

France’s government is pledging 45 billion euros ($70 billion Cdn) in aid for small businesses hurt by the spreading coronavirus. France now has 7,730 cases of the virus, including 175 deaths.

Dykeland Lodge in Windsor, N.S., has setup a meeting window where its residents can meet with family members. (Submitted by Krista Beeler)

In Lithuania, thousands of trucks remained backed up Wednesday on roads into Poland, after Warsaw ordered strict measures that include testing every driver for COVID-19 symptoms. The line of trucks was 60 kilometres long on Tuesday night. The Polish and Lithuanian governments have opened a second crossing, “but that did not help much,” said border police spokesperson Rokas Pukinsas.

Greece is imposing a compulsory 14-day quarantine on anyone entering the country and extending shop closures to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in business and finance:

From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 8:30 a.m. ET.

IKEA Canada has announced the temporary closure of all store locations nationwide as a precautionary measure due to the ongoing risk of COVID-19.

“IKEA will continue to support co-workers through its comprehensive benefits package and paid leave policy,” the company said in a statement.

Detroit’s three automakers, GM, Ford and Chrysler, have agreed to implement rotating, partial factory shutdowns to allow for deep cleaning of equipment and longer periods between shifts. 

Ford announced Thursday it would cease Canadian operations.

Toronto-based Porter Airlines will be suspending all flights starting Friday, with plans to resume service June 1. Re-booking fees will be waived, Porter said. CEO Michael Deluce said the halt in flights will trigger layoffs.

Montreal-based Air Transat has announced it will gradually suspend flights to and from most destinations in Europe and the U.S. until April 30.

Air Canada is cutting its overall seat capacity in half, and by 75 per cent in the Pacific market. WestJet Airlines Ltd. has halved its domestic capacity and cancelled all transatlantic and U.S. routes for 30 days starting this Sunday, chopping 155 flights on Wednesday alone.

The Canadian dollar traded lower against its U.S. counterpart Wednesday, dropping to 68.82 cents US, compared with an average of 70.55 cents on Tuesday.

Canada’s main stock index wiped out gains made Tuesday as COVID-19 fears continued to rattle markets. The S&P/TSX composite index was down 677.03 points, or 5.3 per cent, at 12,008.18 at mid-morning. In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 1,393.10 points, or 6.3 per cent, at 19,844.28.

The UN’s International Labor Organization estimates the fallout from the outbreak could cause nearly 25 million job losses and drain up to $3.4 trillion US worth of income by the end of this year.

Wall Street’s main indexes had bounced back up on Tuesday from a massive sell-off a day earlier, as the Trump administration pressed for a stimulus package and the Federal Reserve relaunched a plan to purchase short-term corporate debt.

However, with the COVID-19 disease still spreading rapidly across the globe, investors are alarmed about the extent of the blow to consumer spending, businesses and supply chains, sending financial markets into a tailspin.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Asia

From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:30 a.m. ET.

China’s imported coronavirus cases outnumbered domestic transmissions for a fifth straight day as infected travellers passed through major transport hubs in Beijing, Shanghai, and the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Mainland China — where the outbreak began late last year — had 13 new infections on Tuesday, the National Health Commission said, down from 21 a day earlier. A dozen of the new cases involved infected arrivals from abroad. The number of infections totalled 80,881, with 3,226 deaths.

There are currently 246 confirmed cases in Pakistan, most in the Sindh province where authorities have quarantined hundreds of people upon their return from Iran.

Bangladesh on Wednesday reported its first death from coronavirus.

The causeway between Malaysia and the financial hub of Singapore was eerily quiet Wednesday after Malaysia shut its borders. Malaysia issued a restricted movement order after a sharp spike in coronavirus cases to 673, making it the worst-affected country in Southeast Asia.

In Thailand, Bangkok’s notorious red light districts were due to go dark Wednesday after a government order closing bars, schools, movie theatres and many other venues.

A doctor takes the temperature of a police officer as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus at a semi-closed airport, in Lima, Peru on Tuesday. (Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press)

The Philippine Stock Exchange was closed with no trading Tuesday after the president placed the northern part of the country, including Manila, under quarantine. The exchange’s CEO said the end of trading activity would be “until further notice.” The Philippines has 140 cases of infection and 12 deaths.

A patient in a bio-containment unit is carried on a stretcher from an ambulance in Rome on Tuesday. (Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press)

Sri Lanka says it will add more quarantine centres to help fight the coronavirus. An army general said 23 army vacation bungalows will be used as quarantine centres for a group of travellers who arrived recently from London. Sri Lanka has confirmed 28 cases of the virus, with no deaths so far.

Police officers wearing protective masks check papers at a control point in Paris on Tuesday. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

In South Korea, officials reported a downward trend in new infections for the third day in a row Tuesday. There were 84 new cases, bringing the country’s total infections to 8,320 on Monday, according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 81 people have died in the country, after six more deaths were reported Tuesday, most of them older and with underlying disease. South Korea has further postponed the beginning of the new school year by two weeks to protect students from the virus.

A worker sanitizes a train compartment at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in Mumbai on Tuesday. (Rajanish Kakade/The Associated Press)

The vice-chairman of Japan’s Olympic committee, Kozo Tashima, tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, escalating concerns about whether the Olympics can proceed as planned as the pandemic spreads

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday that G7 leaders had agreed to support a “complete” Olympics, but dodged questions about whether any of the leaders had brought up the possibility of postponement. Japan is dealing with around 700 local cases, as well as the passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who tested positive.

The Bank of Japan is also looking at taking emergency measures to tamp down the impact of the outbreak on the country’s economy, NHK reported.

Here’s a look at some of what’s happening elsewhere in the world, including hard-hit Iran

From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, updated at 12:30 p.m. ET.

  • Iran has reported 147 more deaths from the virus in the past 24 hours. In total, the country has had 17,361 cases of COVID-19, state TV said on Wednesday.
     
  • In Israel, the government has reported a 25 per cent spike in the number of cases. The country’s health ministry says 90 more people have tested positive, bringing the country’s overall number to 427, a day after authorities issued a new series of guidelines that put Israelis in near-shutdown mode.
     
  • Gambia’s health ministry reported its first case of coronavirus on Tuesday, a 20-year-old woman who had recently returned from the U.K.
     
  • UNESCO says around half the world’s student population is now out of school because of the global pandemic.

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