03/17/2020 13:34 EDT | Updated 03/18/2020 15:44 EDT

Trudeau Gets Specific About Meaning Of Social Distancing During Coronavirus Crisis

The prime minister wants Canadians to take it seriously during a pandemic.

DAVE CHAN via Getty Images
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on COVID-19 situation in Canada from his residence March 17, 2020 in Ottawa. 

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging Canadians to take social distancing more seriously, and to “stay home as much as possible” to curb community transmission of a virus that has led to the deaths of more than 6,600 people internationally.

“Doctors and nurses need your help. Your neighbours need your help. Vulnerable people in the community need your help,” Trudeau said, in a televised address Tuesday outside his Ottawa home. “As much as possible, stay home. Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Work remotely if you can. Let the kids run around a bit in the house. Things will get better.”

COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Symptoms include fever, coughing, difficulty breathing and mild to severe, and possibly life-threatening pneumonia in both lungs. There are at least 444 confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationally as of midday Tuesday, according to federal deputy public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo. 

The prime minister asked Canadians to keep the future in mind while digesting government and public health recommendations to self-isolate whenever possible.

Watch: What is social distancing? Story continues below video:


“The bottom line is this: each one of us can make choices that help the people around us … So if you can, send an email or pick up the phone instead of meeting in person. Order takeout instead of going out to dinner,” he said, encouraging Canadians to support friends and neighbours if they’re worried or need help.

“Canada, let’s work together. I know we can do this.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer, echoed his remarks in urging Canadians to stay home.

“If the measure of a society is it how it cares for its most vulnerable, I’m calling on all Canada to pull together and flatten this curve,” she told reporters.

Pretty much anything with a door will be closed.Prime Minsiter Justin Trudeau on Parks Canada closures

Some of the new measures announced Tuesday include a shutdown of visitor access to national parks and historic sites operated by Parks Canada. “Pretty much anything with a door will be closed,” Trudeau said.

Gatherings of more than 50 people have also been strongly discouraged across the country. Some provinces that have already declared a state of emergency, such as Ontario, have already banned such gatherings.

More details will be unveiled Wednesday about the government’s “significant fiscal stimulus package” promised last week to support Canadians and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The expected measures to “get money into the pocket of Canadians,” as Trudeau explained, may require new legislation.

Trudeau said the federal cabinet is looking at recalling Parliament in order to pass legislative measures, he said, changes that would allow the government, for example, to amend employment insurance rules. He also said the government is exploring using the Emergencies Act to impose measures it can’t do under normal circumstances.

The Emergencies Act allows officials, for example, to impose travel bans on individuals, take over personal property, establish emergency hospitals and shelters, and define providers of essential services.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called the Emergencies Act a measure of “last resort” and said cabinet ministers had started discussing its provisions Tuesday. The federal government would not evoke it without close consultation with the provinces and territories, she said.

Justin Tang/CP
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland participates in a press conference about COVID-19 in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 17, 2020.

During a press conference following Trudeau’s address, Health Minister Patty Hajdu began choking up after asking Canadians to be kind to each other, and to check in with vulnerable members of their community. “Think of ways you can help to ensure that we get through this together,” she said. 

“There are scared people. There are lonely people. There are frightened people. And it doesn’t take a lot to reach out to them and say that you’re there with them, even in spirit, to ask what they might need.”

Hajdu said now is the time to recall lessons learned in childhood: “Share, be kind, ask how you can help. Together as Canadians, we will get through this.”

Canada to partially close air borders

The prime minister has been in self-isolation at his Ottawa home since his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 last week after returning from London, U.K. Grégoire Trudeau remains in isolation with a headache, the prime minister told 680 News

On Monday, Trudeau announced new measures to partially close Canada’s borders in an effort to reduce further transmission of the virus, which is spread by respiratory droplets from an infected person. 

Starting Wednesday, all foreign nationals, with the exception of U.S. citizens, will be barred entry into Canada. Airline crew, diplomats, and immediate family members of Canadian citizens are also currently exempt from the new restrictions.

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

On Tuesday, Freeland described the Canada-U.S. border as a “lifeline” but she was clear that just because U.S. citizens are allowed into Canada, it doesn’t mean they should travel here. “Now is not the time … for our American friends to be coming just for a visit,” she said.

Canadians have been urged to avoid all non-essential travel outside of the country during the pandemic. The prime minister and cabinet ministers have asked those abroad to return home — while they still can.

“Whether you are a snowbird and you have a semi-permanent residence in Florida, for example, or Arizona, or not, it is time to come home,” Hajdu said. 

“This is a very fluid situation and things changed rapidly,” she added. “If people do become ill, it is much better to become ill in your own home country, where you know that you’ll have appropriate health coverage in a way that you can be certain as a Canadian.”

Nobody knows how different countries will respond as they try to skate to where the puck is going, she said.


While officials insisted that Canadians would always be able to return home, Transport Minister Marc Garneau noted those with symptoms of COVID-19, no matter their nationality, will not be able to board a flight to Canada. 

To help those stuck abroad because of travel constraints or health concerns, the federal government launched an emergency loan program to provide Canadians up to $5,000 to arrange a “timely return to Canada and to temporarily cover their life-sustaining needs while they work toward their return,” according to Global Affairs Canada.

Those abroad in need of assistance should email sos@international.gc.ca or call the federal government to signal their presence: +1 613 996 8885, said officials.

As of midnight Tuesday, all international flights will be redirected to the four international airports in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. Domestic flights within Canada and to the Caribbean, Mexico, the U.S., and St. Pierre-et-Miquelon are not impacted by the new rules. 

All travellers arriving from foreign destinations are asked to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry into Canada.

Ontario records first potential COVID-19 death

In Europe, outbreak of the virus has prompted several countries to take significant measures to curb the continued transmission of the virus. Schools, universities, and most shops and restaurants have been closed in France. Germany closed its borders and both Italy and Spain have declared national states of emergencies. 

Provinces including Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island have declared public health emergencies over the COVID-19 outbreak. That formal declaration allows provincial governments to enact emergency measures related to funding and public spaces for a period of time.

Unprecedented circumstances led to Ontario’s state of emergency, said Ontario Premier Doug Ford Tuesday, but the “extraordinary measure” is necessary to “offer our full support and every power possible to help our health-care sector fight the spread of COVID-19.”

Ontario has the most number of confirmed COVID-19 cases of any province or territory with at least 177. Health officials recorded the province’s first death linked to COVID-19 Tuesday.