COVID-19: Ottawa warns against all international travel; Trump declares national emergency in U.S.

The latest:

  • Federal government asks Canadians to cancel all non-essential international travel.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says government will introduce ‘significant’ fiscal stimulus package in the days ahead.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump declares national emergency.
  • Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre warns of COVID-19-related scams.
  • Bank of Canada makes unexpected rate cut.
  • Number of cases in Canada approaches 200.
  • READ MORE: Here’s the latest guidance for Canadians on travel, quarantines and what to do if you have symptoms.

The federal government is warning against all international travel and is limiting inbound flights as part of a series of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Canada’s chief public health officer has asked Canadians to postpone or cancel all non-essential travel outside the country.

“It is also important to remember that if you travel abroad, you could be subject to the measures of the other countries,” said Dr. Theresa Tam. “Your one-way trip may become much longer.”

Health officials across the country are urging people to do what they can to slow the spread of disease and thus lower the burden on the health-care system.

In addition to avoiding international travel, those measures include handwashing, staying home if sick and social distancing. 

“This means avoiding crowded places and non-essential gatherings, considering shopping or taking public transport in off-peak hours and greeting one another with a wave or elbow instead of a handshake, kiss or hug,” Tam said. “Where possible, increase social distancing with others to two arms’ length, approximately two metres.”

The government announced a range of measures Friday, including asking travellers already outside the country to consider self-isolating upon their return, enhancing screening measures at airports, marine, land and rail points of entry, restricting the number of airports where international flights can land and banning cruise ships carrying more than 500 people from docking at Canadian ports until July. 

Not closing door to ‘further steps’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the government will be announcing a “significant” fiscal stimulus package in the days ahead. “We will get through this together,” he said.

The prime minister, who previously announced a $1-billion COVID-19 economic package, said decisions would be based on recommendations from medical experts and top scientists.

“We’re not closing the door to any further steps, but we will make those decisions based on what science tells us.”

Trudeau was speaking from his home, where he is in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for COVID-19. Trudeau said he has no symptoms, feels “very well,” and is working at home as a precaution at his doctor’s recommendation.

In an interview with CBC’s Matt Galloway earlier Friday, Trudeau said that his government is looking at “everything” and that Ottawa doesn’t want people to be worried about whether they’ll be able to make rent or pay for groceries. It was not immediately clear when the full details of that plan would be available.

In a separate interview with Radio-Canada, Trudeau said Friday his government is considering closing the border to some international travellers.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre issued a bulletin warning consumers of “COVID-19 related frauds that have already may begin to occur in Canada.”

Fraudsters are aiming to “profit from consumers’ fears, uncertainties and misinformation” around the outbreak, the bulletin said. People should be on the lookout for scams ranging from private companies offering fake “fast” coronavirus tests or products claiming to treat or prevent the disease to “malicious email campaigns,” it said. 

Schools closing in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick

On Friday, Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick closed schools for an extended period in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. Ontario made that decision on Thursday. 

In Quebec, all schools, universities, daycares and CEGEPs in the province will be closed for two weeks starting Monday, Premier François Legault announced.

Legault, who spoke about everything from school closures to how the health system is preparing, also called on Trudeau to limit the entry of foreign visitors into Canada.

Manitoba schools will also close for three weeks, starting March 23, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said at a news conference on Friday. The move will end classes a week early for spring break and keep kids out until April 13 to get ahead of COVID-19, he said.

New Brunswick public schools will close for at least two weeks, starting on Monday. The closure will not affect daycares, Premier Blaine Higgs said. 

Ontario announced Thursday that publicly funded schools would be closing from March 14 through to April 5. The Ontario school closure — which tacks two weeks onto the upcoming March Break — was made at the recommendation of the province’s chief medical officer, the provincial government said.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Friday that Canada is in a “critical window” to deal with COVID-19. She said she spoke with her G7 counterparts, “and everybody is working as diligently as possible to contain the spread globally.”

Case numbers are still on the rise around the world, but there are signs of progress in the fight against the novel coronavirus, particularly in China, where the disease first emerged.

More than half of the world’s 128,000 people infected have already recovered. Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, though severe symptoms including pneumonia can occur, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.

Here’s a look at what’s happening with COVID-19 in Canada, the U.S., the global economy and some of the harder-hit regions of the world.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in provinces with cases of COVID-19

Canadians should absorb the short-term pain and practise social distancing in order to avoid the coronavirus, says Dr. Michael Gardam. 6:58

Schools are closing in Ontario and Quebec, while provincial officials in B.C. and Quebec are cautioning residents about international travel. Even in provinces without confirmed cases of COVID-19, people are being urged by health officials to practice proper hand hygiene and take precautions like staying home when sick. 

In Ontario, the latest news is that schools are closing. The premier’s office said Thursday that it recognizes that the closures will have a “significant impact” on parents, students and communities as a whole. But Doug Ford’s office said “this precaution is necessary to keep people safe.” Read more about what’s happening in Ontario, where some stores are feeling the strain as worried shoppers flood in, despite warnings not to engage in panic buying.

In B.C., the province’s top doctor is cautioning against all non-essential travel outside Canada, and recommending that large events be cancelled. Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that people who leave the country and return to B.C. — including people who travel to the U.S. — should stay away from work and school for a period of 14 days. Many schools in the province are about to start a two-week scheduled spring break. While some parents are calling for an extended closure of schools, the province’s education ministry said Thursday that the ministry isn’t considering it because the risk in schools is still low. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

In Alberta, jury trials between now and May 31 have been postponed and the province’s top doctor has called for the cancellation of events of more than 250 people. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

In Quebec, schools are being closed for two weeks. The planned closures in Quebec come after Premier François Legault introduced his sweeping plan for the province, which included mandatory self-isolation for public sector workers who travelled abroad and voluntary isolation for anyone else who made a similar trip. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec. 

Manitoba, announced its fourth COVID-19 case on Friday. The province said it was opening screening centres in Winnipeg in a bid to increase testing for the coronavirus. It also announced schools would shut down for three weeks starting March 23.  Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

In Saskatchewan, the province reported its second presumptive case on Friday — a person in their 60s who had travelled to Oregon. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

In New Brunswick, the top medical officer is calling for the cancellation of all events with more than 150 people. The province has reported one confirmed case of COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in New Brunswick.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk associated with COVID-19 is low for the general population, but it notes that could change quickly. People who are over 65, have a compromised immune system or underlying health conditions face a higher risk of “more severe outcomes” if they contract the virus — which the WHO says is mild for most who get it.

As of Friday evening, there were 198 confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada 

Several provinces and territories have not yet reported any cases. Here’s a look at how those communities are responding to COVID-19.

Nova Scotia has not yet reported any cases, but on Friday the province said it is requiring any public sector worker who travels outside Canada to self-isolate for two weeks. Children in daycares or schools who leave the country will need to do the same, the province said. Read more about how Nova Scotia is preparing for COVID-19 here.

P.E.I. has not yet reported any cases, but on Friday afternoon Premier Dennis King announced he would self-isolate and work from home as a precaution because he had been in Boston.  Read more about what’s happening in P.E.I. here.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.

From CBC News, Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 3:40 p.m. ET 

U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday. 

In a news conference at the White House, Trump said that declaration would free up to $50 billion US for states and territories to use “in our shared fight against this disease.”

The president said he was asking all hospitals to activate their emergency preparedness plans and that the U.S. government would partner with the private sector to increase the availability of coronavirus tests — including drive-through tests — but also said U.S. authorities didn’t want people to take the tests if they don’t need them.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday evening that Democrats in the House of Representatives have reached a deal with Trump’s administration on a coronavirus aid package and will soon pass it.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been negotiating since Thursday on a multi-billion dollar package that aims to limit the economic fallout in the U.S.

The bill would provide for free coronavirus testing, two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus, expand safety net programs and increase federal support for Medicaid, according to a summary released by Pelosi’s office.

WATCH | How scientists at Johns Hopkins University are tracking COVID-19:

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University had predicted the COVID-19 outbreak and are now working to track the virus. 2:03

Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, said Friday more tests would be available over the next week, but that officials should not wait before trying to mitigate the virus’s effects.

“The next few weeks, for most Americans, what you’re going to see is an acceleration of cases,” with the goal now to “blunt the rise in cases,” he said. 

“The changes have been made and testing will soon happen on a very large-scale basis. All red tape has been cut, ready to go!” the president wrote in a tweet.

Schools emptied of students and workplace cubicles went vacant. Crowded gatherings were restricted from New York to California, and dozens of cultural hubs were closed. Disneyland and Disney World will close in the coming days. And sports fans couldn’t cheer their favourite teams from the safety of their living rooms since basketball, baseball, hockey and other leagues cancelled and postponed games.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the business world

From CBC’s Pete Evans and The Associated Press, updated at 3:15 p.m. ET

The Bank of Canada made an unexpected rate cut on Friday afternoon, cutting the central bank’s benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points to 0.75 per cent.

The central bank had already cut its rate to 1.25 per cent at a previously scheduled meeting on March 4 to help counteract the impact of the coronavirus.

“This unscheduled rate decision is a proactive measure taken in light of the negative shocks to Canada’s economy arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent sharp drop in oil prices,” the bank said.

European stocks gave up most of the gains made during the day, closing only slightly higher on Friday after suffering a huge drop the day before.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index, which measures major shares across the continent, ended the day 1.4 per cent higher. On Thursday it dropped 11.5 per cent, its worst percentage drop on record.

Britain’s FTSE 100 closed 1.7 per cent higher, Germany’s DAX 0.8 per cent and France’s CAC 40 1.8 per cent. Italy’s FTSE MIB gained 7.1 per cent, not even half of what it lost the previous day.

Investor sentiment was helped somewhat by financial aid measures by the EU and states including Germany and France.

The Toronto Stock Exchange regained some ground on Friday after suffering its worst day in decades on Thursday. COVID-19 fears had prompted a sell-off but a day later buyers seemed to be thinking the market may have overreacted.

Here’s what’s happening in Europe

From The Associated Press, updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

The European Union is urging its member countries to put health screening procedures in place at their borders to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The EU’s executive commission said Friday that the measures could be taken at borders inside the 26-nation area where ID checks are not required or at the EU’s external borders.

Interior ministers from the bloc’s 27 member nations weighed the recommendations as they tried to develop a unified action plan. The virus is now present in all 27 EU countries. More than 22,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across Europe, and more than 1,000 people so far have died on the continent.

With Italy at the epicentre of Europe’s outbreak, neighbouring Austria and Slovenia moved to restrict traffic at their borders, raising questions about the movement of food and medical equipment. But other nations, like the Czech Republic and Poland, are taking action, too.

“What we can do, and what we should do, is to carry out health screening measures,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

In Italy’s hardest-hit Lombardy region, hospitals were overwhelmed with both the sick and the dead. The country’s restaurants, cafes and retail shops closed in a lockdown on personal movement, though grocery stores, pharmacies and markets were allowed to operate.

WATCH | How social distancing helps slow the spread of COVID-19:

Social distancing measures like working from home, school closures and cancelling sporting events could lead to a drop of new infections of coronavirus. 1:54

France, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania, Algeria and Slovakia shut down their schools, and Europe’s most successful soccer team, Real Madrid, put all its players into quarantine after one tested positive

Spain, which is dealing with a growing caseload, is expected to declare a state of emergency. The prime minister said Friday he will mobilize the military to contain new virus cases. 

Lawmakers in Denmark approved a temporary law giving authorities the ability to ban access to public places and stores and force people to undergo tests. Estonia declared “an emergency situation,” meaning no gatherings in public spaces.

Here’s what’s happening in China, South Korea and Japan

From The Associated Press, updated at 7:30 a.m. ET

China, where the virus emerged late last year, still accounts for more than 60 per cent of global infections. But on Friday it reported just eight new cases and seven deaths. More than 64,000 people have been released from hospitals.

With China’s caseload slowing, the government was helping other countries with its expertise. A Chinese medical crew was heading to Italy and surplus supplies were sent to Iran.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the UN leader his nation wants to conduct joint research on drugs and vaccines and offer “as much assistance as it can” to countries where the virus is spreading. State media reported Xi told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by phone that economic and daily life are gradually returning to normal in China thanks to “arduous endeavours” at prevention and control.

South Korea reported 114 new cases and was near 8,000 overall. Officials said 177 patients were released from hospitals, making Friday the first day recoveries outnumbered new infections since the country’s first patient was confirmed on Jan. 20.

Japan, which has 675 cases — not including the nearly 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship — enacted a controversial law Friday that would allow Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare a state of emergency if the coronavirus outbreak worsens in the country. Government officials in Japan said there is no immediate plan to declare a state of emergency, but Abe is expected to make a decision based on experts’ latest evaluation of the outbreak. 

A community volunteer informs residents to get vegetables with a loudspeaker in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on Friday. China reported just 8 cases of the coronavirus on Friday, with no new domestic infections outside the epicentre of Hubei province. (AFP/Getty Images)

Here’s what’s happening in Iran 

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 7:30 a.m. ET

The total number of deaths in Iran from the coronavirus outbreak has risen by 85 to 514, a health ministry official said on state TV Friday, adding that the total number of infections had increased by more than 1,000  in the past 24 hours, to 11,364.

Here’s a glimpse at what’s happening in some of the areas of the world that have not seen a major surge in cases:

  • Authorities in Kenya say a woman has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the first case in the East African country. The patient had travelled from the U.S. via London, the health minister said.

  • The West and Central African nations of Ghana and Gabon also announced their first confirmed cases of the disease. Ghana Minister of Health Kwaku Agyeman-Manu said two people who returned from Norway and Turkey tested positive and are in isolation. Gabon’s first case of the virus is in a 27-year-old who returned after staying in Bordeaux, France.

  • Nepal moved to suspend all climbing permits for Mount Everest — and every other peak in the mountainous nation because of the coronavirus. China has already shuttered its side of Mount Everest.

  • Officials in Pakistan quarantined roughly 4,000 pilgrims in tents and buildings in the southwestern border town of Taftan upon their return from Iran, officials said Friday.

  • The Indonesian government announces 35 new cases of COVID-19 infections, bringing the country’s confirmed cases to 69 on Friday, including two toddlers. In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, the government launched a cleaning campaign for 10,000 mosques. The religious affairs minister called on each mosque to roll up carpets and spray disinfectant, while also urging Muslims to not shake hands or share a kiss on the cheek to avoid spreading the virus.

Here’s what’s happening in the world of sports

From The Associated Press, updated at 10:35 a.m ET

In the U.S., it was announced Friday that the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga., the first men’s golf major of the year, is being postponed. Boston Marathon organizers announced the April race has been postponed until September.

Earlier, the English Premier League has been suspended until April 3 “at the earliest,” the league said, after three clubs put their entire playing squads in self-isolation because of coronavirus. England’s cricket team will fly home Saturday after their March 19 test cricket match was called off.

The Greek Olympic committee says it is suspending the rest of its torch relay because of the “unexpectedly large crowd” that gathered to watch despite repeated requests for the public to stay away to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The International Olympic Committee said Thursday that as of now, the Tokyo Games are still on for July 24. The World Cup cross-country ski event this weekend in Quebec City has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak, effectively ending the season. Earlier, the world figure skating championships scheduled for next week in Montreal were scuttled.

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