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Trudeau: Sorry, world, but Canada is closed — to everyone but the US

How does one say “keep out” in Quebeçois? Justin Trudeau put out the “closed due to illness” sign for the whole Canadian union today as his government tries to limit its exposure to the coronavirus pandemic. The only non-Canadians now allowed entry are “at this time US citizens,” Trudeau announced, and declared that air carriers will be responsible for checking travelers for symptoms regardless of nationality:

Canada is barring entry to all travellers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today — one of a set of extraordinary new measures being introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19.

There will be exceptions for air crew, diplomats, immediate family members of citizens and, “at this time,” U.S. citizens, Trudeau said.

The prime minister also said no one who is displaying symptoms will be permitted to board a flight to Canada, and that air operators will be required to complete a basic health assessment of every passenger based on guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In order to enforce these new restrictions, inbound international flights will get restricted to four airports for the foreseeable future: Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. Screening for symptoms also includes Canadian citizens and permanent residents, and the airlines held responsible for violations with them as well. If Canadians get snared by displaying symptoms, Trudeau promised support but not necessarily re-entry:

“To help asymptomatic Canadians to return home, our government will set up a support program for Canadians who need to get on a plane. Canadian travellers will be able to get financial assistance to help them with the costs of returning home or temporarily covering basic needs while they wait to come back to Canada.”

Trudeau had flirted with the idea of closing the US-Canada border too, but apparently had second thoughts about the economic impact. However, Trudeau explained, Americans will have to self-quarantine for two weeks as a condition of entry:

The Canadian leader added that the U.S. and Canadian economies are closely integrated, requiring further investigation into whether the Canadian-U.S. border may eventually have to be shut down. “We are not ruling out any measures. But we will take necessary measures when they become necessary,” Trudeau said.

Americans now entering Canada will need to answer a questionnaire about their health when arriving at the border, and will need to acknowledge an obligation to self-isolate for 14 days.

The outbreak is picking up steam in Canada, including at Trudeau’s house. His wife Sophie was diagnosed with it after displaying symptoms of the COVID-19 virus on returning home from abroad. Trudeau made this announcement outside of his house where the couple are self-quarantining as she recovers from the illness. These moves are similar to those announced by the Trump administration only more extensive, effectively closing the border to all human traffic while keeping the exchange of goods in operation.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that the entertainment industry might be hardest hit, given that it is entirely dependent on people crossing borders to produce material in Canada:

Elsewhere in the Canadian production sector, top executives began to react to the latest cross-border restrictions, including a curtailment of international flights, and its impact on expanding Hollywood film and TV production here.

“We are dealing with the situation regarding COVID-19 as it unfolds in real time. With things changing so quickly we can’t comment on any specifics. This is an unprecedented situation, not only locally but globally and we continue to work in the best interest of the professional artists and technicians of IATSE Local 891 through this difficult time,” Phil Klapwyk, business representative for IATSE Local 891 in Vancouver, told THR in a statement.

Hollywood can still ship product across the border, but a two-week quarantine will play hob with production schedules. It’s not the most critical point of the economic damage, but it still might cost quite a few jobs over the next couple of months as the outbreak plays itself out.

Speaking of Trump, he took a lot of heat at home and abroad over his unilateral imposition of travel restrictions. Trudeau noted that he consulted with the G-7 before closing Canada’s borders, a step Trump neglected, but the effect is the same, with an even broader scope. Will Europe criticize Trudeau for taking this step as unnecessary and too late as they did with Trump — or has everyone learned their lesson about what social distancing entails for national policymaking?

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