228 Canadians from cruise ship return as authorities turn focus on travel

Some 228 newly repatriated Canadian cruise ship passengers began a two-week quarantine at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, in Ontario, on Tuesday, as some authorities turned their focus to the travel industry as they work to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A government-chartered plane carrying Canadians from the Grand Princess cruise ship landed at the military base at about 6 a.m., though not all the 237 Canadians from the ship were on board.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters that a “handful” of crew members tested positive for the virus that causes the illness COVID-19, although he declined to give specific numbers.

“We have certain crew members, a very limited number of crew members, which tested positive which are Canadian on the ship, and they will remain on the ship in accordance with the protocol that has been agreed with the CDC and local and state authorities in the U.S.,” Champagne said in Ottawa outside a cabinet meeting.

Some other Canadians remained in California for health reasons unrelated for the virus, he said.

There were 3,500 passengers and crew aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship. It docked Monday at the Port of Oakland after days of being forced to idle off the coast of Northern California amid evidence it was the breeding ground for more than 20 COVID-19 cases.

Canada’s top doctor has urged Canadians to avoid all cruise travel, saying the confined quarters and frequent interactions can foster the spread of the illness.

The repatriation effort drew praise from both countries’ leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, who described the operation as “very dignified.”

In a meeting at the White House, he thanked both Canada and the United Kingdom for their help in repatriating their residents.

“They’re coming back, they’re being met and brought to planes and being brought very, very — in a very dignified fashion back into Canada,” Trump said.

“We appreciate all the help we’ve had in that, and that’s working out very well.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, took to Twitter to thank the Canadian consular staff and American officials who helped the passengers to return to Canada.

Meanwhile, airlines and Canadian authorities put new limits on travellers to limit the spread of COVID-19, which has afflicted more than 100,000 people in 100 countries around the world.

Air Canada announced Tuesday afternoon it was suspending flights to and from Italy as a result of Italian regulations and “ongoing health and safety concerns” related to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The airline’s last flight to Rome was to take off from Toronto Tuesday, with the final return flight departing Rome for Montreal on Wednesday.

Air Canada said it hopes to restart service May 1. Meanwhile, it says affected customers will be notified and offered full refunds.

New Brunswick’s education minister ordered all preschoolers and students returning from travel abroad to stay out of school for two weeks.

Dominic Cardy sent a letter to parents Monday saying the precautionary measure — among the most aggressive taken by any province — also applies to school and early learning centre staff, volunteers and family members of students.

Cardy said the new rule applies to those who have returned from international travel as of March 8. School trips are also cancelled for the rest of the year.

In Montreal, Sainte-Justine hospital asked its staff to avoid all personal travel unless absolutely necessary — a move the Quebec government is considering extending to the entire heath network.

Quebec’s Health Minister Danielle McCann said that in addition to limiting the spread of the virus, hospitals need to minimize the number of workers in isolation or off sick during a possible outbreak.

“We have to preserve our workforce because we’ll need it more and more,” she said. ”So we’re examining that for the network of health and social services, and we’ll make a decision in the short term.”

The hospital also asked staff to stay home from work for two weeks if they’ve visited certain regions, including China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Iran, India, Egypt, Japan and parts of Italy and France as well as the Seattle area.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland wrote the provinces and territories on Monday asking them to inform the federal government of their state of readiness and any shortages they’re facing ahead of Friday’s first-ministers meeting in Ottawa.

The meeting of Trudeau and provincial and territorial leaders will include discussions on the potential impact of the spreading virus on the country’s health-care system and its economy.

Canada had at least 79 cases of the respiratory illness as of Tuesday morning: 32 in British Columbia, 36 in Ontario, seven in Alberta and four in Quebec.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau also sought to reassure nervous investors on Monday, saying the Canadian economy can weather the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

The country’s finances are healthy enough to help individuals and businesses deal with the fallout, Morneau said, without providing details of any plans or when the federal budget will be released.

The government is being urged to ease access to federal sick-leave benefits, along with tax credits and other breaks, to help workers who can’t afford to stay home when sick, as well as to help small businesses that might not have the cash flow to manage the effects of the outbreak.

Canada reported its first death from COVID-19 on Monday. A man in his 80s died at a North Vancouver long-term care centre Sunday night, two to three days after first showing symptoms, British Columbia’s provincial health officer said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

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