Canada closes borders to foreign visitors; citizens urged to avoid 'non-essential travel'

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on March 16 that, with a few exceptions, Canada’s borders will be closed to non-citizens in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus in the country.

The exceptions include Americans, airline crews, diplomats and immediate family members of Canadian citizens.

Canadians and permanent residents will be allowed to re-enter the country, but Trudeau is advising that they make an effort to return home as soon as possible. Starting March 18, international flights will be allowed to land at only four airports in Canada: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

Airlines are being directed to bar any passengers who show COVID-19 symptoms from boarding a flight to Canada. Citizens who are trying to return home will be provided a support program by the government.

The news comes just days after the Public Health Agency of Canada advised people to “avoid non-essential travel” outside of the country because of the pandemic.

For Canadians who are still planning on travelling, they’re being advised to check a “destination’s Safety and security, Entry/exit requirement and Health sections” on the government’s travel advisory site.

The Health section for any country, as of March 14, will direct you to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s general COVID-19 travel health notice, which has been set at a Level 3, “avoid non-essential travel.”

Along with the risk of contracting the disease, officials are warning about the possibility of being quarantined abroad or being caught in another travel ban, should you leave Canada.

There are four levels of travel health notices:

Level 1: Practice usual precautions

Level 2: Practice special precautions

Level 3: Avoid non-essential travel

Level 4: Avoid all travel

Upon returning to Canada, people are being advised to self-isolate for 14 days. In addition, those who have been in Hubei, China, Italy or Iran are being asked to contact their local public health authorities.

Canada has also issued an advisory for cruises, telling it’s citizens to “avoid all cruise ship travel due to COVID-19,” while Transport Canada has banned cruise ships with more than 500 people to dock in Canada until Jul. 1.

Before the Public Health Agency issued a global travel health notice for COVID-19, there were only 10 destinations where precautions were advised: Iran, Hong Kong, China, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Germany, France and Spain.

Here’s what to you should know about those specific locations:

France, Germany and Spain

Canada’s Public Health Agency issued Level 1 travel health notices, “practice usual precautions” for France, Germany and Spain on March 9.

The number of cases continues to grow in those three countries, with the World Health Organization even calling Europe the new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. All three nations have shown signs of community spread, meaning that it is unknown how or where certain patients became infected.

On March 14, Spain decided to take the same measures as Italy, by imposing a nationwide lockdown. Starting on March 16, the country will only allow its citizens to leave their homes to buy food and medicine, go to medical centres and banks, commute to work, or take trips related to caring for the elderly and the young. Spain will also close down its restaurants, bars, education centres, hotels, as well as non-essential retail outlets.

France followed suit the same day as Spain, by shutting down most of its shops, entertainment facilities and restaurants to contain the spread, to go along with their measure of prohibiting large public gatherings. Their borders have not been shut down as of March 16, but people in France are also being asked to limit their movement,

On March 16, Germany launched new controls at their usually check-free borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark. People “without a valid reason to travel” won’t be allowed to across, said interior minister Horst Seehofer. German citizens, to go along with people who need to commute across the border for work, will be allowed entry.

As of March 16, Spain has over 9,400 cases and 330 deaths, France has at least 5,900 cases and 120 deaths, while Germany has at least 7,100 cases and 10 deaths. There are also cases in Canada linked to each of the three destinations.

Usual precautions advised by the Canadian government for the three destinations include staying away from large crowds, while also regularly monitoring your health for symptoms associated with COVID-19.


The Public Health Agency continues to issue a Level 3 travel health notice for Iran, but Canada has upped its general travel advisory for the Middle Eastern country to its highest, Level 4, “avoid all travel.”

Along with factoring in the COVID-19 outbreak, additional risks include “volatile security situation, the regional threat of terrorism and the possibility of arbitrary detention.”

The first case of COVID-19 in Iran was reported Feb. 19, but in less than a month’s time they’ve reported over 14,900 cases and at least 850 deaths. 

The Canadian government’s website notes that it is increasingly difficult to leave Iran, since airlines have suspended their flights to and from the country as part of strict travel restrictions. All neighbouring countries have also closed their borders with Iran, while some aren’t allowing foreigners to visit if they’ve been to the country up to 14 days before their arrival.

Travel to the region increases as Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, is celebrated on March 20. Canada advises travellers that “spending time in large crowds or crowded areas can increase your risk of getting sick.” Since there is no resident Canadian government office in Iran, “Government of Canada may have little to no ability to assist your departure,” according to their website.

Canada is asking that if people do return from Iran, that they contact public health authorities in their province. People are also being asked to self-isolate at home for the first 14 days. Community spread is being reported in Iran, meaning that it’s being transmitted from person to person. Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia have also all seen cases linked to people who visited Iran. 

Hong Kong

On Feb. 24, the Public Health Agency issued a Level 1 travel health notice to “practise usual precautions” when visited Hong Kong.

Upon travelling, you can expect increased health screening measures at points of entry, since the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (HKSAR) has raised its response strategy to “emergency,” with at least four reported deaths and 150 cases as of March 16. There has also been signs of community transmission, along with cases in Canada that have been linked to Hong Kong.

Air Canada has also already cancelled all its Toronto-Hong Kong flights until April 30, because of a reduced demand to the area.


An “avoid non-essential travel” advisory has been in issue for China since Jan. 7, because of the risk it could pose to “travellers and the Canadian public.”

It’s the second highest level of an advisory, and the same severity has been issued by Public Health for its travel health notice. The highest COVID-19 advisory, “avoid all travel,” has been issued specifically for the Hubei province, which is where the COVID-19 outbreak was first reported. Canadians who are returning from Hubei are being asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days upon your arrival.

If you’re still trying to find a trip into China, it won’t be easy. Air Canada has cancelled flights into the mainland until April 10.

The decision was made in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Transport Canada and Global Affairs as China continues to try and control the virus. Even though we’ve seen a drop in the amount of reported daily cases, COVID-19 has currently killed over 3,200 people and infected over 81,000, with China implementing lockdowns for many of its cities.

According to the government of Canada’s travel advisory page, there have also been reports of hotels not accepting guests who have not been in China for at least 14 days, which is the incubation period, or requiring them to stay in self-isolation in their rooms for those first two weeks. You also face the risk of being quarantined at any moment, since temperature checks are conducted in hotels, stores and shopping centres.


Canada and the Public Health Agency have both issued a Level 3, “avoid non-essential travel,” advisory for all of Italy.

The advisory was originally for northern Italy, but the country has since put all of its territories under lockdown from March 9 to April 3.

Italy has had the largest spread of COVID-19 outside of Asia, after just reporting its first case Feb. 18. As of March 16, the Mediterranean country has over 27,900 cases and at least 2,150 deaths. There has also been cases in Canada that have been linked to travel in Italy.

Travel to, from and within Italy is controlled, while schools, cultural sites and museums are closed. Public and private events are also suspended, while restaurants and bars can only operate under special conditions. Air Canada has also suspended all its flights to Italy until May 1, because of the lockdown.

In Italy, you may only leaving your accommodation if it’s is absolutely necessary, such as to go to work, buy food or medication, seek health care or return home. You must also fill out a self-declaration form. Health screenings are also reportedly being done along major highways and transport lines.

If you chose to go to Italy, “you should not depend on the Government of Canada for assistance related to changes to your travel plans,” according to their website. Upon your return to Canada, you’re also being asked to self-isolate for 14 days to limit the chance of spread.

South Korea

South Korea has seen its total daily cases slow in recent weeks, with over 8,200 infections and at least 75 deaths as of March 16. Their government still has its virus alert at its highest level, red, while if you travel to South Korea you may be asked to self-isolate because of your travel history, current health conditions, and who you’ve been in contact with.

The Public Health Agency issued a Level 2 travel health risk to “practise special precautions” on Feb. 24, but Canadians who are flying to South Korea can expect increased health screening measures at points of entry. The government of Canada’s travel advisory page has also warned its citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” as part of its general warning because safety precautions might change at a moment’s notice in the country.

A Level 3, “avoid non-essential travel” advisory has been issued by Canada for the city of Daegu and the province of North Gyeongsang, which includes Cheongdo and Gyeongsan, in South Korea because of a growing number of emerging COVID-19 cases. That also includes an alarming rise of community transmission.

Local authorities have in turn designated Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan as “special care zones,” while residents of Daegu have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible and to avoid crowds.

The government of Canada’s website also warns that access to timely health care and supplies may be limited.


On March 2, Public Health raised the severity of its travel health notice for Japan to a Level 2, which advises people to “practise special precautions,” such as making an effort to actively monitor their health.

The government of Canada has also recommended to “exercise a high degree of caution,” since there are “identifiable safety and security concerns” and that the “safety and security situation could change with little notice.”

The government of Canada’s website says that “the risk to travellers is higher in Hokkaido where sustained community spread of the virus is being reported.” People with underlying medical conditions and weakened immune systems are being advised “to consider postponing travel to Hokkaido,” because they’re at a higher risk of contracting the disease.

If you’re travelling to Japan, you can also expect increased health screening measures at points of entry. Japan has so far reported at least 25 deaths among at least 820 cases. That doesn’t include the passengers who were on the Diamond Princess Cruise which was docked off the coast of Yokohama as it underwent a 14-day quarantine starting Feb. 4. There were more than 700 COVID-19 cases on board, including 47 Canadians, which has caused international concern over the safety of cruises during this global health emergency.

World-wide attention will continue to be set on Japan, with a looming decision on whether to still hold the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the International Olympic Committee.


A Level 1 travel health notice to “practice usual precautions” has been issued for Singapore by the Public Health Agency. 

The South East Asian country has at least 240 cases, but no reported deaths. In January, Singapore aimed to limit the spread by closing its borders to all Chinese travellers because of the number of tourists that visit the country on a daily basis. Canadians who wish to visit Singapore also won’t be allowed entry if they’ve been to China within the past 14 days.