Travel restrictions at Canada, U.S. border expected to begin later today

Tight restrictions on non-essential travel between the United States and Canada are expected to begin later today as both countries try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected thousands around the world, disrupted economies and caused major airlines — including Air Canada and WestJet — to dramatically scale back service.

The government has urged all Canadians who are abroad to return home quickly, but some have struggled to find flights as they face border restrictions and limited travel options as airlines cut capacity.

Air Canada is laying off more than 5,000 flight attendants as it deals with a stark drop in the number of flights it operates, calling the move “difficult but necessary.” The airline had already said it plans to “gradually suspend the majority of its international and U.S. transborder flights” by March 31.

Wesley Lesosky, president of CUPE’s Air Canada component, said he has “never seen layoffs like this.”

WestJet has said it is suspending international travel as of Sunday for a 30-day period. Swoop, the discount carrier owned by WestJet Airlines, will do the same. The discount airline said it is now working to bring home more than 2,300 Swoop passengers who are still outside of Canada. 

Sunwing Airlines says it expects to have all of its customers, most of whom are at Mexican or Caribbean resorts, back home by Monday. Sunwing is also offering vacant seats on its repatriation flights free of charge to any Canadians stranded in sun-kissed parts of the hemisphere, including non-Sunwing customers.

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 244,000 people around the world and more than 10,000 deaths are being linked to COVID-19. More than 86,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam talks about the need to drive down cases:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer says it will be clearer over the next two weeks how well Canadians social distancing practices help in limiting the spread of COVID-19. 1:40

The illness causes mild and moderate symptoms in most people, but there are several segments of the population who are at higher risk of more severe illness, including seniors and people with underlying health issues. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Thursday that Indigenous people also face a higher risk because of health inequities, higher rates of underlying conditions and the difficulties that come with living in remote communities. 

Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and other areas of the world dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories

British Columbia announced another COVID-19 related death linked to a long-term care home in North Vancouver. The province, which has reported eight deaths, has the most known cases in Canada, with more than 270. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s top public health official, on Thursday reiterated a call for social distancing and other measures to slow the spread of the virus, telling people “the things that we’re doing right now are going to save us in the next two weeks.” Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Ontario, which has almost 260 known coronavirus cases, has reported its second COVID-19 related death. Health officials in Halton Region said Thursday that a man in his 50s with an underlying health condition who had no recent travel history outside Canada and no known contact with a COVID-19 case had died. Health Minister Christine Elliott — who has faced increased questions over test availability, wait times for testing and hospital capacity — said Thursday the province has added more telehealth lines and is working on improving lab testing. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

Alberta’s top doctor urged people to take the risks from COVID-19 seriously as the province reported its first death. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that an Edmonton man in his 60s died late Wednesday. The province is doing “all we can to fight the spread of the virus,” Hinshaw said. “But to do this, we will need everyone’s help.” Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

Quebecers are being urged to limit travel, even within the province, to slow the spread of COVID-19. Premier François Legault is urging people to reduce their daily movement, saying “it’s not the time to go shopping or spend an hour in a restaurant.” Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

In Saskatchewan, people are being urged to embrace social distancing measures as case numbers rise. The province, which as of Thursday night was reporting 20 confirmed and presumptive cases, has banned public gatherings of more than 50 people. But the chief medical officer of health wants people to avoid groups of more than five. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

Staff are seen preparing food at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank in Burnaby, B.C., on Wednesday. The federal government has promised funding for people who are out of work, but there’s still concern about how many families impacted by the coronavirus will make ends meet amid economic turmoil. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Health officials in Manitoba plan to open more isolation beds as the number of coronavirus cases rise. The province, like many others, is reviewing its inventory of critical supplies like protective gear for health-care workers and ventilators. More ventilators are on the way, officials said, and while the supply of protective gear is solid for now, the province has said it will buy more. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba, which delivered a budget Thursday amid economic turmoil linked to the pandemic.

New Brunswick declared a state of emergency on Thursday, a move that requires a range of changes from businesses, including limits on how many people can congregate and measures ensuring social distancing. “I would say it’s very clear that it’s no longer a voluntary exercise,” Premier Blaine Higgs said. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Nova Scotia is allocating $1 million to help the province’s food banks amid growing economic damage caused by COVID-19. The province, which banned evictions of vulnerable people during the crisis, has said more supports will be rolled out in the days ahead. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.

The top doctor in P.E.I. is urging people to respect self-isolation and social distancing protocols, saying the province wants to avoid the stark situations seen in places like Italy. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

A top education official in Newfoundland and Labrador says all students between kindergarten and grade nine will pass to the next grade, “no matter what time we get back.” Tony Stack, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said the plan for high school students is not yet finalized. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

There are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Canada’s North, but efforts are underway to ensure governments are prepared. Yukon is setting up a respiratory assessment centre, and education officials in the Northwest Territories are looking into measures to support students. Read more about what’s happening in the North.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

From Reuters, updated at 6 a.m. ET

U.S. senators from both parties were expected to meet on Friday along with Trump administration officials to try to devise a rescue plan for an economy reeling from the coronavirus, after Republicans made a $1 trillion US opening bid.

The massive Republican package unveiled on Thursday includes cheques of up to $1,200 for many Americans, and hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for small businesses and industries. It also would allow Americans a breather on filing their income taxes until July. They are normally due in April.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the package after talks with the White House and his fellow Republicans. He then invited Democrats to join them in negotiations on Friday, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow.

McConnell vowed the Senate would not adjourn until it had taken action and sent a measure to the Democratic-led House of Representatives, but any vote was probably days away.

Democrats said they were ready to talk, but were also wary, noting they had not been involved in drafting the plan.

“To earn Democratic support in the Congress, any economic stimulus proposal must include new, strong and strict provisions that prioritize and protect workers, such as banning the recipient companies from buying back stock, rewarding executives and laying off workers,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement with his fellow Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The package is the third taken up by Congress since the coronavirus erupted in the United States. The highly contagious respiratory disease had infected 12,259 people in the country and killed 200 as of Thursday night. It has shut schools, businesses and wide swaths of American life, and sent the stock market into a tailspin.

WATCH | Does Canada have enough ventilators?

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Congress passed an $8.3 billion US measure earlier this month to combat the coronavirus outbreak and develop vaccines. On Wednesday, lawmakers approved and Trump signed a $105 billion-plus plan to limit the damage through free testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending.

A key plank in the latest measure is direct payments of up to $1,200 for individuals earning up to $75,000 annually, a Senate Finance Committee statement said. Students would be allowed to defer payments on student loans.

The bill also includes $300 billion for small businesses, and $208 billion in loans for distressed industries, including $50 billion for passenger airlines and $8 billion for cargo air carriers.

Here’s what’s happening in Europe

From The Associated Press, updated at 6 a.m. ET

Mayors of many towns in Italy are asking for more stringent controls on citizens’ movements to help contain surging coronavirus infections. Despite a national lockdown that strictly limits conditions under which people are allowed to leave their homes, there have been many violations. Authorities say as of Friday morning, more than 53,000 summons have been issued for violations.

State radio said Friday that Premier Giuseppe Conte might announce tighter measures nationwide. On Thursday, Italy’s deaths from the virus — 3,405 — surpassed those in China, where the outbreak began.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron urged worried employees to keep working in supermarkets, production sites and other key businesses amid tight restrictions on movement imposed to fight the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the country.

WATCH | People thank health-care workers for their work dealing with COVID-19:

Applause breaks out in places across the globe in appreciation of health-care workers fighting against the coronavirus. 0:45

“We need to keep the country running,” Macron said. As many workers express fears of the virus, the French government is trying to strike a tricky balance between restrictions and keeping the economy afloat.

Businesses allowed to remain open are required to apply strict rules about social distancing, washing hands and disinfection. French health authorities have reported almost 11,000 cases of people infected with the virus, including 372 who have died.

Britain is asking 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work to help fight the coronavirus. The government is sending letters to 50,000 former nurses and 15,000 retired doctors, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped “many, many thousands will respond” to the appeal. He said volunteers would be given training over the next few weeks before being allocated to hospitals.

Final-year nursing and medical students could also be drafted to bolster health-care staff. Britain’s coronavirus outbreak is not expected to peak for several weeks. Already, some hospitals have complained about overworked staff and shortages of ventilators and protective equipment such as face masks.

The U.K. has 3,269 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 144 people have died.

Members of the Military Emergencies Unit prepare to carry out a general disinfection at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat airport in Spain on Thursday. (Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images)

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