March 15, 2020 / 4:51 PM / 24 days ago

Canada will not rule out border closures; medical officer urges strong action against outbreak

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday would not rule out closing borders to combat a coronavirus outbreak, while the chief medical officer said time was running out to prevent a spike in cases.

A Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer wears a protective face mask amid coronavirus fears as she checks passports for those arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Teresa Barbieri

At least 313 Canadians have tested positive and one person has died. Ontario, the most populous province, saw its largest daily increase so far of 38 new cases, which now total 142.

Asked whether Canada might shut its borders to Europe or the United States, Trudeau told CTV: “We are not taking anything off the table.”

Closing borders could have a major economic impact, given that Canada sends 75% of its goods exports to the United States.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, called for strong action - such as avoiding large public gatherings - to fight the spread of the virus.

“With cases rapidly increasing in Canada ... our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrowing,” she told reporters. Tam said it was not time to declare a national public health emergency, noting most cases involved people who had been abroad.

“That situation could change very quickly,” she said.

There are now cases in all 10 provinces. Quebec Premier Francois Legault ordered the temporary closure of businesses where people gather, while restaurants can stay open, but only at half capacity.

He also called on Trudeau to seal off Canada.

The Liberal government will soon announce a major stimulus package to help those hit by the outbreak. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Ottawa fully understood the seriousness of the situation.

“We are absolutely committed to doing whatever it takes ... to ensure our economy can weather the storm,” she said in a phone interview.

Canada’s public health agency posted an ad for nurses, citing “an urgent need.” Medical authorities in Ottawa, the federal capital, recommended people stay at home if possible.

Canada has already boosted monitoring at airports and is urging citizens to return from abroad while they can.

“We’re hearing the concern people have had. The shift in posture in the United States of course gives us significant things to think about,” said Trudeau.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Asked whether foreign visitors might be obliged to go into isolation, Trudeau replied: “We are considering everything.”

When pressed about instances of people hoarding foodstuffs and toilet paper, he insisted supply chains were intact.

“Not panicking about anything is going to be really important,” he said.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney

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