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Cruise ships with more than 500 people banned, airports restricted in Canada amid COVID-19 concerns

Cruise ship docked in Vancouver. (via Glacier Media)

The latest news on the COVID-19 global pandemic (all times Eastern):

12:45 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he won't be tested for COVID-19 unless and until he shows symptoms of the virus.

He says that's the advice he's receiving from public health officials.

Trudeau's wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau was diagnosed with a mild case of the illness yesterday.

The family will stay in isolation for 14 days.


12:35 p.m.

Canadian Armed Forces commander Gen. Jonathan Vance is ordering a ban on all international travel for military personnel for at least the next three weeks as a result of COVID-19.

In a letter posted to Twitter, Vance says the move is necessary to protect the military from being unduly affected by the illness given its "unique and existential obligation" to continue operations and be prepared for unknown challenges.

All non-essential gatherings in Canada have also been suspended, while military personnel are being told to work from home where possible.

Military schools and colleges will continue operating, but students are confined to bases.

Vance says military personnel who have purchased vacation packages will be reimbursed for cancelling.


12:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's keeping in close touch with his counterparts in the provinces and abroad in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

He says he'll be speaking with the premiers and Indigenous leaders later today.

And Trudeau says he's also spoken with world leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

He made the remarks in a news conference outside his home, where he's in self-isolation following his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau's diagnosis with the virus.


12:05 p.m.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau says no cruise ships carrying more than 500 people will be allowed to dock in Canada until at least July 1.

The restriction will apply to ports in the North for the whole season, because the risk from COVID-19 is greater in more remote communities.

He says the government is also planning to restrict the airports that can accept international flights, so people arriving on them can be more closely screened.

Garneau says the list of airports that will be included hasn't been settled yet.


12:05 p.m.

Quebec is closing all schools, junior colleges, universities and daycare centres in the province for two weeks beginning Monday to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Premier Francois Legault is also calling on the federal government to rapidly limit the entry of foreign visitors into the country.

He says it is inconsistent that the province's citizens are being told to self-isolate for two weeks upon returning from travel, but foreign visitors face no restrictions.

Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, Legault said daycare service would be available for health care workers and others providing essential services.


12 p.m.

Canada's chief public health officer says Canadians should not travel outside the country unless they have to, out of concern over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Theresa Tam says any non-essential trip should be cancelled or postponed.

Besides the risk of catching or spreading the novel coronavirus, she says there's a danger of getting caught in a travel ban or quarantine abroad.


11:55 a.m.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says every Canadian has to do their part to keep the COVID-19 pandemic at bay.

She says the actions we take today will save lives.

Staying home when you're sick, coughing into your elbow and washing your hands is critical, the health minister says.

She says governments are doing all they can but stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus comes down to numerous individual decisions to be careful.


11:45 a.m.

Ontario is reporting 19 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the total to 79.

The total includes a new case that was reported late Thursday — in Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the prime minister's wife.

The new cases include people who live in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region, Ottawa, Niagara, and Waterloo.

Most of the new cases are in people who recently travelled, to places such as the United States and Egypt, or are close contacts of other confirmed cases.

However, six cases are not listed with specific sources of transmission, but health officials didn't immediately say what that means.


11:40 a.m.

Justin Trudeau says he will address Canadians just after noon Eastern time.

The prime minister is in self-isolation because his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Trudeau says he'll make the address from his home, Rideau Cottage.


11:35 a.m.

Ottawa is opening its first dedicated assessment centre for COVID-19 at noon.

Set up in a city skating rink just outside downtown, the centre is meant to let people be tested for the novel coronavirus without going to hospitals, potentially spreading it there and requiring constant cleaning in busy emergency departments.

The assessment centre is to be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

It's meant for people who have COVID-19 symptoms such as fever and cough, and who have either recently returned from international travel or have close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of the illness.


11:30 a.m.

The National Arts Centre is suspending its programming in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The president and CEO has announced that performances and events at the Ottawa institution will be cancelled through April 5.

Christopher Deacon says tickets for cancelled shows will be exchanged or refunded.

Deacon says the centre's public spaces will remain accessible, and all other operations will continue.


10:45 a.m.

The suspension of the House of Commons means the federal budget won't be presented March 30 as Finance Minister Bill Morneau had promised.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez says the deal among all the parties allows a new date to be set.

He says the new date will be decided later.

The agreement also allows the Commons to sit with fewer MPs if it has to, so it can hold debates and votes only with members who don't have to travel far.


10:37 a.m.

The House of Commons is cancelling all public tours until April 20.

Visitor access is also being curtailed.

A message from Speaker Anthony Rota says committee travel and all parliamentary functions and events in the parliamentary precinct around Parliament Hill are cancelled.

Rota says the preventative measures were agreed to by an all-party board of internal economy.

A release from his office says the board is taking these measures to ensure a healthy and safe work environment in buildings and "to protect individuals who may be at risk for more severe complications from COVID-19."


10:35 a.m.

Part of the deal for closing Parliament for five weeks is ratifying the new NAFTA.

The House of Commons approved it unanimously and the Senate is expected to pass it quickly this afternoon before also adjourning for weeks.


10:30 a.m.

The judge presiding over a high-profile murder case in Toronto has told jurors the trial will continue amid new precautionary measures related to the novel coronavirus.

Justice Michael Dambrot says the Kalen Schlatter trial will be completed, "hopefully as quickly as possible."

The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario announced yesterday that jury selection has been suspended for future trials and anyone summoned for jury duty for upcoming proceedings should not come to court.

But it says trials currently underway can continue, unless the judge says otherwise.


10:30 a.m.

The University of Toronto is cancelling all in-person classes across its three campuses for undergraduates and research-stream masters and doctoral courses.

It will take effect starting Monday for the rest of the semester, and the school says it will "provide teaching by other means," including online.

Libraries, residences, food services, health and wellness centres, athletics and recreation facilities and other public spaces on all three campuses remain open.

Yesterday, U of T cancelled all university-sponsored learning programs abroad, advised that non-essential travel should be reconsidered and recommended the cancellation or postponement of all discretionary events.

More universities in Alberta are also cancelling classes, including the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge.

Those classes are just cancelled for the day, with longer-term measures to be announced in the next two days.


10:28 a.m.

Some mosques across the country are cancelling or altering their Friday prayer sermons in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The move comes after two Islamic organizations called on all mosques to drop the practice.

The Muslim Medical Association of Canada and the Canadian Council of Imams said mosques should cancel the congregational prayer until further notice.

Mosques in Toronto, Ottawa and Niagara Falls, Ont., have since cancelled the prayer, while other mosques in Vancouver and Montreal have opted instead to limit the size of the prayers to under 250 people.

Friday prayers are a religious practice similar to the Catholic Sunday Mass.


10:25 a.m.

The House of Commons is breaking until April 20, an extended suspension to try to keep legislators and staff from catching or spreading COVID-19.

All the parties say they've agreed to the measure, extending a planned one-week break into five.

Government house leader Pablo Rodriguez says the Commons could come back sooner if an emergency requires it.

He says it's a sign of how seriously MPs take the COVID-19 fight that they've found a way to compromise in a way that lets the federal government keep operating without routine votes in Parliament.


10:18 a.m.

McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., says it is suspending in-person classes at the end of the day.

The school says it is also cancelling in-person exams, and is telling students that instructors will let them know in the next few days what is happening with the rest of their course work and how grades will be evaluated.

McMaster also cancelled all "discretionary events" as of Thursday and urged everyone in the university community to avoid travel outside Canada.


10:15 a.m.

The CN Tower will be closed for the next month.

Canada Lands Company, which owns the landmark, says the tourist destination will close tonight and won't reopen until April 14.

The announcement comes a day after the Ontario government said it would shutter schools for two weeks following March Break, which begins on Monday.

After that announcement, the province's chief medical officer encouraged parents not to take their kids to enclosed public spaces such as museums and shopping malls.


10:10 a.m.

Parliament is preparing to stop sitting to keep politicians and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details are still emerging as MPs discuss the plans in the House of Commons.

Conservative whip Mark Strahl says the opposition will continue to hold the Liberals to account outside Parliament.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet says his party is supporting the plan in the interest of the common good, but days legislators don't sit will have to be made up later.


10:10 a.m.

York University in Toronto says it is suspending all face-to-face instruction and its classes will be moving online starting Monday.

All non-essential events are also being cancelled or postponed due to the novel coronavirus.  

President and vice-chancellor Rhonda Lenton says members of the York University community will likely fall ill, but the school will be part of the network of family, friends and institutions that will help them recover.


9:50 a.m.

Nova Scotia is requiring public sector workers and public school children who travel abroad to isolate themselves for two weeks when they return to Canada.

The province's Liberal government introduced the travel protocols today with the goal of reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus in the province.

Premier Stephen McNeil says the private sector in the province is being encouraged to take the same approach and citizens who feel they need to travel must "show the courtesy" of isolating themselves when they return.

The province is also recommending that organizations limit social gatherings to no more than 150 people and McNeil says he's in discussions with the federal government about delaying the start of the cruise ship season.

The province has not yet reported a presumptive or confirmed case of COVID-19.


9:20 a.m.

Theatres are taking steps to assure audiences it's still safe to see movies on the big screen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

TIFF Bell Lightbox is asking movie-goers to maintain a three-seat distance within its cinemas.

The Toronto theatre will be selling fewer tickets for each screening for at least the next four weeks.

Staff will also sanitize all tables, arm rests and other areas in and around the cinemas.

Cineplex says it's also rolling out "enhanced cleaning protocols" at locations across the country.

The chain says it's implementing policies to ensure hourly staff don't suffer a financial hit for staying home.


8:45 a.m.

The Royal Bank is predicting Canada will fall into a recession later this year as the economic impact of COVID-19 and the plunge in oil prices weigh on the economy.

The bank is predicting the economy will grow at an annual pace of 0.8 per cent in the first quarter, but then contract in the second and third quarters of the year.

RBC is forecasting an annualized decline of 2.5 per cent in the second quarter and 0.8 per cent in the third quarter.

It says the forecast is based on an assumption is that the impact of the virus will run its course by the end of the first half of the year, however the persistence of low oil prices will prevent the economy from recovering.

RBC expects the economy will pick up more substantially in the fourth quarter.


8:10 a.m.

Classes at the University of Alberta are suspended — at least for the day — as official decide whether the campus should remain open while the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

The University says campuses and all services remain open but classes have been suspended to allow for additional consultation with health experts.

The one-day suspension comes as Alberta Health announced Thursday that certain large gatherings of people should be cancelled to ward off the spread of the respiratory virus — although school closures were not ordered.

A statement from the university says "large research institutions are unique in their scale and diversity of experiences" and a decision on the resumption of classes will be made by this Sunday, at the latest.


7:00 a.m.

A Canadian biotech firm says it has produced a viable vaccine candidate for COVID-19.

Quebec-based Medicago says it has created a virus-like particle of the coronavirus, the first step in developing a vaccine.

The product will now undergo preclinical testing for safety and efficacy and the firm hopes to begin human trials by the summer.

The company is also using its technology to develop antibodies to the coronavirus in collaboration with Laval University's Infections Disease Research Centre.

Many global firms are in the race to find a vaccine, but experts caution the process could take more than a year.


6:30 a.m.

A hospital in Ottawa has established a drive-thru testing station to screen patients for COVID-19.

Queensway Carleton Hospital and Foundation says the station has been established outside its emergency department and is available to people who've been told by Ottawa Public Health to receive testing on the virus.

The hospital says the testing centre opened Thursday night and will be open as long as they deem necessary.


6:15 a.m.

A group of scientists from the Toronto-area say they've isolated the COVID-19 virus, which means they'll be able to better research and fight the illness.

The scientists, from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto and McMaster University, say isolating the virus allows them to conduct long-term research and will help with developing treatments, vaccines and tests for the virus.

A statement from Sunnybrook says they'll collaborate with more scientists as they research the virus.