Canada will be closing its U.S. borders starting Friday night, the Canadian government said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters from his Ottawa residence, said that while the flow of trade between the two countries will be left intact, all non-essential travel in both directions will be banned.
According to Trudeau, the border closure is part of a mutual agreement between him and U.S. President Donald Trump.
“We are working on the final details with the U.S. but we expect the measures to come into effect sometime during the night between Friday and Saturday…in about a day and a half,” he added.
Trudeau is currently under self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for the virus last week.
As part of their agreement, the border will stay open to trade and that delivery of food, fuel and medicine would continue. Trudeau added that essential cross-border workers such as health-care professionals, airline crews and truck drivers will be permitted to cross borders.
Before the closure’s announcement, it was estimated that $2.7 billion worth of goods flows through the Canada-U.S. border daily.
This is the first time since the Canadian Confederation in 1867 that Canada and the U.S. are closing the joint border to most travelers.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland echoed Trudeau’s pronouncement, noting in a statement that tourists or those who may be traveling for recreational purposes will not be allowed entry.
“People should not be traveling between Canada and the U.S. to be tourists or for recreational purposes,” Freeland said. “If you have an important reason to cross the border you can continue to do that,” she added.
The border between the two countries will be closed for an “indefinite” amount of time.
In addition to the border closure, Trudeau also announced that the federal government would free up $82 billion in direct spending, as well as deferred taxes in a bid to help Canadians endure the COVID-19 pandemic, which, as of this writing, has infected over 500 Canadians and killed 11. (Related: Coronavirus ravages North America: More US states report upswing in cases; even Canadian PM’s wife tests positive.)
The financial aid package includes additions to the Canada Child Benefit payment, tax credits for low and middle-income Canadians, wage subsidies for small businesses to help keep their staff on payroll, additional emergency benefits for those who don’t currently qualify for employment insurance, as well as a six-month hold on Canada Student Loan payments.
“We will get through this together,” Trudeau said. “Whether you need more time to repay a student loan or whether you’re a farmer worried about your income, we’re there for you and we will continue to do everything we can to help you.”
According to Trudeau, there will also be separate funding for Indigenous communities in Canada, as well as additional support for homeless shelters.
“We recognize that this is a difficult time in terms of getting these new programs in place quickly enough to help Canadians. That is why I’m going to be working with the public service to ensure that all our efforts are focused on supporting Canadians through this difficult time,” Trudeau stated, adding that help for Canadians will be “flowing in the coming weeks.”
Trudeau reminded Canadians, however, that social distancing measures will still be in place, and that they are set to be the reality for Canadians for the coming “weeks to months.”
“As much as possible, stay home,” he said. “Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau’s statements came days after Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said that the window for Canada to control the spread of the virus and keep it at a manageable level for Canada’s health-care system is closing, and that government needs to act now.
“We don’t need to flatten the curve, we need to plank it,” Tam said in a statement.
As of this writing, the coronavirus has infected 244,517 globally, while 10,030 have been confirmed dead.