OTTAWA—Pressure is mounting on the federal government to impose stricter travel measures as Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory separately called for action on Monday to slow the deadly spread of COVID-19.
But the Liberal government indicated it was not ready to move, with several ministers or their spokespeople stating they are still considering tougher measures without specifying what they might be. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned last week that Ottawa could impose new rules to limit travel “at any given moment without warning” and asked all Canadians to avoid non-essential travel — both inside Canada and abroad.
At Queen’s Park on Monday, Premier Ford urged the federal government to “close down any travel coming into Canada outside of residents or citizens of Canada,” in addition to mandatory testing for anyone coming into the country because of more contagious variants of COVID-19 that are circulating around the world.
“There’s no reason we need people coming in,” Ford said.
“This has to stop. It’s absolutely critical,” he added, questioning how many cases could be coming in every day. “We need to be quick,” he said.
Later, after meeting with the chairs and mayors of municipalities across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), Toronto mayor Tory also cited new variants of the virus and said the leaders agreed to make their own joint call for “stricter travel measures now.” Those include additional screening for travellers, increased enforcement of quarantine orders, as well as added testing at airports, Tory said.
The variant of the virus identified in the United Kingdom is already suspected as the cause of an outbreak that spread rapidly in the last couple of weeks at the Roberta Place nursing home in Barrie, Ont., killing at least 40 residents.
Ontario had found 34 cases of the U.K. variant as of Monday, more than double the level of a week ago, and officials suspect it is spreading in the community.
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In Ottawa, spokespeople for Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair declined to comment and pointed to Trudeau’s warning last week about potential new travel measures. Allison St-Jean, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s press secretary, said by email that the government is “currently considering options that could further restrict travel and be introduced with short notice.” But she did not say what those options are.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was also silent about what options are being considered when asked about it at a news conference Monday. “It’s absolutely the right thing for us to be actively considering tougher measures given the virulence we’re seeing of COVID around the world,” she said.
Canada currently advises against all non-essential travel, and requires travellers entering the country to show they have a plan to isolate away from others for 14 days. Earlier this month, it also started requiring all passengers on flights into Canada to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before they are allowed to fly.
Last week, Quebec Premier François Legault called on Trudeau to go further and ban all non-essential travel in and out of the country — a suggestion the prime minister quickly dismissed. But Trudeau did confirm reports last week that Ottawa is weighing whether to make travellers from abroad quarantine in a hotel for the required 14 days at their own expense.
On Monday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said “the necessity is clear” for beefed up restrictions, and pointed to countries like New Zealand as possible models for Canada. In that country, incoming travellers must isolate for 14 days in government-paid hotels and test negative before they can enter the community, according to New Zealand’s health ministry website.
A group of health experts has also signed an online petition that calls on Ottawa to — among other things — more clearly define what is essential travel, cancel flights to holiday destinations, “strongly consider” designated quarantine facilities for returning travellers, and test all arriving travellers followed by two additional tests during the 14-day quarantine period.
With a file from Jacques Gallant
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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