OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’ll be making an announcement in the coming days about new travel restrictions to control COVID-19 transmissions, stating Tuesday that “nothing is off the table.”
Trudeau offered little detail on what measures Canadians can expect to see in due course. His remarks follow increasing pressure from provincial leaders, including Ontario’s premier, to close the country’s borders to all non-Canadian residents. He set expectations last week when he said new restrictions could come “without advance notice.”
“We will not hesitate to take even tougher measures if and when they’re needed,” he said in a press conference outside his Ottawa home at Rideau Cottage. “The bad choices of a few will never be allowed to put everyone else in danger.”
Watch: COVID-19 in Canada, one year later. Story continues below video.
In the year since the first presumptive case of COVID-19 was reported in Ontario, more than 753,000 total cases of the infectious diseases have been diagnosed as of Monday. In that same timeframe, the deaths of more than 19,200 people have been linked to COVID-19.
Trudeau referenced the actions Canada has taken to discourage international travel including; closing the border to most non-citizens in March, implementing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering the country, and the new rule requiring Canada-bound air travellers to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their flight.
“These measures work. They’re saving lives. And that’s why our friends and allies are following suit,” Trudeau said, referencing how the United States is “copying” Canada by adopting the same requirement for air travellers to obtain a negative COVID-19 tests before boarding.
That rule requiring negative COVID-19 tests for air travellers came into effect Jan. 7 in Canada.
New, notable variants of COVID-19 first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, reported to be more transmissible and deadly, are fuelling domestic concerns about the efficacy of Canada’s border-control measures.
Trudeau defended the current measures in place as “very strict” and suggested mulling stronger border measures isn’t an issue that’s taken lightly.
“We know very well that we depend on planes coming from everywhere in the world for our food, for our pharmaceutical products, for the delivery of essential goods,” he said in French.
“We do not want to interrupt supply chains that Canadians depend on. We are closely studying what other additional measures we can take to the already strict measures that we have.”
He said travel is only one part of the equation and tools to track and trace COVID-19 transmissions are also needed. He referenced the 15.4 million rapid tests the federal government has so far distributed to provinces.
Several provincial premiers want to see tougher measures introduced at the federal level.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford repeated his call for the federal government to adopt stricter border measures during a press conference at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport Tuesday.
Appearing alongside provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott, Ford spoke about the province’s pilot program at the airport which offers free and voluntary COVID-19 tests to all incoming international travellers.
Despite the “steady progress” made through the pilot program, Ford said “thousands of people continue to pass through Pearson every week without being tested” and that he wants to see mandatory testing for all international travellers.
“We’re asking the federal government to adopt mandatory testing upon arrival for all international travellers and impose a temporary ban on flights coming from countries where new COVID-19 strains are being detected,” he said.
“Until vaccines are widely available, we all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus and that means tighter controls at our border.”
Currently, it is mandatory for all international travellers who arrive in Canada to quarantine for 14 days. They are required to download the ArriveCAN app, which is used for daily self-reporting of COVID-19 symptoms while they are in quarantine.
Some premiers want to see more financial onus shifted to travellers to help deter international trips to curb the risk of importing new COVID-19 variants into Canada.
Last week, Quebec Premier François Legault made the suggestion that international travellers should foot the bill for a two-week quarantine in hotels.
On Tuesday, Legault asked the prime minister to “act more quickly” to put a halt to all non-essential foreign trips or introduce rules to require travellers quarantine in a hotel for two weeks.
“I don’t understand Mr. Trudeau,” he told reporters in Montreal, adding he just watched the prime minister’s news conference.
“I think Mr. Trudeau has all the powers, either to prohibit non-essential trips abroad, or to force those arriving from trips abroad to go into quarantine in hotels that are supervised at the cost of those travellers,” Legault said, adding “there is an urgency” for the federal government to act quicker.
With files from Althia Raj