OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the partial closure of the Canada-U.S. border won’t halt transportation of essential goods and medical supplies as the two countries attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Trudeau told reporters Wednesday that his government and the Trump administration are trying to ensure trade is not disrupted as the two countries temporarily halt non-essential travel across the border.
Trudeau said he spoke to President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning to “ensure the smooth flow of goods and essential materials and medication across the border.”
“We will work in close collaboration in an ongoing basis to make sure that continues,” Trudeau said.
“These measures will last in place as long as we feel that they need to last.”
Trudeau said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke directly Tuesday, and that by Wednesday morning both countries felt comfortable with taking the extraordinary step as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The border closure will apply to all “non-essential traffic,” although details were still scarce early Wednesday as to how that would be defined and the travel ban enforced.
After CNN reported Tuesday night that the two countries were in talks to close the border, Trump himself confirmed the decision on Twitter Wednesday morning.
“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our northern border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected,” Trump said on Twitter Wednesday morning.
The Canadian government closed the border to all international visitors except U.S. citizens Monday, but federal and provincial authorities encouraged citizens of both countries to avoid non-essential travel Tuesday.
In 2019, some 15 million Americans visited Canada in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. In January alone, Canada’s imports and exports with the U.S. totalled nearly $70 billion.
This update from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was filmed March 16, 2020.
Yet leaving the border open to Americans sparked worries it was encouraging the spread of COVID-19, particularly in British Columbia, where neighbouring Washington state is one of the hardest hit places in the U.S.
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Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the border issue was being discussed “in great detail” at a special COVID-19 cabinet committee meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday.
“We are talking with business, we are talking with labour, we are talking with the provinces,” Freeland said, noting that any action on the Canada-U.S. border would require great care given the volume of two-way trade.
“Particular care needs to be taken just because that border is a lifeline,” Freeland told reporters.
“We get our groceries thanks to truckers who drive back and forth across that border. Very urgently needed medical supplies and medicines go back and forth across that border. And essential workers go across that border every day.”