The Canadian and American flags are seen on top of the Peace Arch is at the Canada/USA border in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canada must watch for uptick in COVID-19 cases ‘really carefully’ if U.S border opens: feds

The U.S. has more than 1.3 million cases and 81,000 deaths

Federal officials are preparing for a possible influx in travellers from one of the world’s biggest COVID-19 hotspots as signs show the U.S. is looking to reopen its economy, at the same time as many Canadian provinces have begun their own plans to loosen restrictions.

The gradual reopening of businesses and loosening of mobility restrictions in both countries will likely mean an increase in cross-border traffic, Trudeau said, and with it the need for additional steps to make sure new arrivals are adhering to self-isolation protocols.

“We are looking at stronger measures to make sure that we’re following up appropriately on people who come over,” he said during his daily address at Rideau Cottage.

“As economic activity starts to ramp up, as restrictions get loosened across countries, it is likely that we see either a few more people returning home or a few more people trying to cross the border, and we need to make sure that the measures we bring forward are going to keep Canadians safe.”

Chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the 14-day quarantine for anyone entering Canada was key both now and if travel did increase.

READ MORE: Canada now mandating all returning travellers to quarantine

“It’s something we will have to watch really carefully so that it is not an issue that is going to overwhelm our public health capacity,” she said. “I think right now things are working really well.”

Tam said that with closing borders, travel-related cases had “really fallen off” in recent weeks. She said Canada would have to rely heavily on its system of checking for symptoms, quarantining and following up with travellers as their numbers increase with the opening up of both Canadian and U.S. economies.

The ban on non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S. was introduced in March and extended one until May 21. Trudeau did not comment on if the ban would again be extended this month but B.C. officials spoke out against reopening the border Monday.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said “it would make no sense” to open the border at this time, even with the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

READ MORE: Opening B.C.’s border to U.S. travel ‘is not in our best interest’: Dr. Henry

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. border restrictions extended until May 21

As of Tuesday morning Canada had recorded 71,088 confirmed cases and 5,167 deaths due to the novel coronavirus. Of those, 2,353 cases and 130 deaths were in B.C.

For its part, the U.S. has more than 1.3 million cases and 81,000 deaths, according to researchers at John Hopkins University. Globally, there are about 4.2 million cases and more than 289,000 deaths.

President Donald Trump, who faces the daunting task of trying to get re-elected in November on the heels of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, has been aggressively lobbying states to ease stay-at-home restrictions and get residents back to work to refire the American economy.

Public health officials, however, have been calling for a more gradual, cautious approach. As Trudeau was speaking, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the pre-eminent U.S. expert on infectious diseases, was warning a Senate committee in Washington of what could happen if state governments don’t adhere to federal guidelines for restarting the economy.

“The consequences could be really serious,” said Fauci, who testified via videoconference from a self-imposed precautionary quarantine after a senior aide to Vice-President Mike Pence tested positive for the virus.

Ongoing talks between Canada and the U.S., both on the border as well as other matters of mutual interest, have been positive and constructive, Trudeau said. But whatever the outcome, it will be governed in Canada by an abundance of caution, he added.

“Preventing transmission from outside of Canada into Canada, once we have controlled the spread within Canada, will be an essential part of ensuring that we don’t fall back into a second wave that could be as serious as this wave we’re going through, or even more so,” he said.

“So we’re going to be very, very careful about reopening any international travel, including the United States, before we feel that it is time.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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