Canada-U.S. border to close as early as Friday, millions trying to return home

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that he expects the closure of the United States-Canada border to come into effect overnight on Friday and was working with domestic carriers to bring home citizens stranded overseas.

Canada, which closed its borders to most foreign nationals this week, agreed with the United States to close their shared border to “non-essential traffic” to curb transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Canada has 772 cases of the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus to date, and nine deaths. Some 55,000 people have been tested across the country so far, Chief Medical Officer Theresa Tam said.

The “day-by-day increases, with no links to travel,” continue to be a concern, Tam told reporters.

Known cases of the illness have surpassed 10,000 in the United States.

The Canadian government said this week it will provide C$27 billion ($18.6 billion) in direct support to families and businesses affected by the virus.

It was also examining whether to invoke the rarely used 1988 Emergencies Act, which would allow Ottawa to override provinces and restrict the movement of people and goods.

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Trudeau said on Thursday he was considering utilizing the military to help with procurement of supplies and urged Canadians to continue practicing social distancing.

“These are difficult and extraordinary times in which Canadians are taking difficult and extraordinary measures,” Trudeau told reporters outside his house, where he is in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for coronavirus.

The government is trying to accelerate procurement of medical supplies, officials said on Thursday, including more masks for healthcare workers.

“We have been able to get the swabs and the other things that the provinces needed,” Tam said. “There’s been a request at least, in the shorter term, for 7 million and we got suppliers to be able to cover about 75% of that.”

Ottawa has not received any requests for ventilators from provincial health authorities but has been acquiring some for its stockpile, Tam said.

Magna International (MG.TO), a major Canadian automaker and contract manufacturer with operations around the world, has promised to help with the potential production of ventilators, Ontario premier Doug Ford said.

“We can’t rely on importing these ventilators,” said Ford. “We have the people, we have the capacity, and we’re going to start manufacturing in Ontario.”

Many of the more than 3 million Canadians based overseas want to return home, officials said on Thursday, and many would need government help as commercial flights become increasingly limited.

Air Canada (AC.TO) said on Thursday it is holding talks with Ottawa to operate charter flights from international destinations to bring back stranded Canadians.

Canada’s largest carrier has said it will gradually suspend most of its international and U.S. transborder flights by March 31 in response to the new travel restrictions.

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