COVID-19: Cross country update (as of March 17, 2020)

March 17, 2020

Over the past 48 hours, numerous measures have been introduced by the federal and provincial governments across Canada, including increased travel restrictions, mandatory closures and other public orders, and announcements relating to leaves of absence.  This bulletin provides a summary of these measures by jurisdiction.



During a press conference on Monday March 16, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada will be taking the following measures to stop the spread of COVID-19:

  • Canada is barring entry to travellers who are not Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or Americans. There will be certain exceptions, including air crews, diplomats, and immediate family members of citizens. Americans who have resided outside of the U.S. in the past 14 days will also not be allowed entry.
  • Individuals displaying symptoms will not be permitted to board a flight to Canada. Flight attendants and air operators will be required to complete a basic health assessment of every passenger based on guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Symptoms include a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. Canadian citizens will be allowed entry into Canada, however, if a Canadian citizen presents themselves at a land border crossing or airport with symptoms, they will be met by health professionals to assist them.
  • Effective March 18, 2020, most international flights will be permitted to land at the international airports in only four cities: Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. Incoming domestic flights, and those from the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean and from St. Pierre et Miquelon, can still land at other airports.

In response to the Prime Minister’s mandate, airlines such as WestJet Airlines, have taken action. The Calgary-based airline will (1) suspend all international flights, including to the U.S. beginning on Saturday March 22, 2020; (2) ensure all Canada-bound flights taking off from international destinations will leave by 11:59 pm EDT local time on Saturday March 22, 2020; and (3) prices will be lowered on remaining seats for Canada-bound flights.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has asked that Canadians avoid non-essential travel outside Canada and that any traveller (Canadian or non-Canadian) arriving in Canada undertake 14 days of self-isolation, excepting workers who are essential to the movement of goods and people (including those in the transportation sector such as flight crews and truck drivers).

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is implementing new measures in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the advisement of the Public Health Agency of Canada including:

  • Requiring all travellers from international destinations to answer health screening questions and acknowledge that they are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • CBSA officers will be on the lookout for visible signs of illness. They will refer any traveller they suspect of being ill to public health authorities for further evaluation, regardless of how the traveller answered the health screening question.
  • CBSA officers will distribute Public Health Agency of Canada pamphlets to raise more awareness about COVID-19, including information on how to monitor themselves for symptoms and to contact public health authorities if they develop symptoms.
  • Increased signage displayed at all ports of entry for travellers to see throughout processing so travellers understand the importance of monitoring their health and contacting their provincial health authorities if they become ill.
  • Travellers will be asked to fill out a Public Health Agency of Canada coronavirus form, which will help health authorities monitor and track people who have been identified as potential concerns.
  • Travellers “of concern” will be given mask kits which include a surgical mask and a page of instructions on how to use it.


British Columbia

The Government of British Columbia announced the following measures:

Effective March 16, 2020, the Province of British Columbia is offering a dedicated phone service to provide non-medical information about COVID-19: 1-888-COVID-19. This phone service will provide access to the latest information on travel recommendations and social distancing, as well as access to support and resources from the provincial and federal governments. Service representatives are reachable seven days a week, from 7:30 AM to 8 PM. Information is available in more than 110 languages.

Effective March 16, 2020, an order was issued by BC’s provincial health officer prohibiting all public gatherings of more than 50 people. This includes conferences, meetings, indoor and outdoor sporting events, religious gatherings, and other similar events.

Effective March 16, 2020, the City of Vancouver has closed most public facilities in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, including public community centres, libraries, pools, and fitness centres. The City of Vancouver has also ordered all bars and restaurants in the City’s downtown core to be closed for St. Patrick’s Day (March 17, 2020).



The Government of Alberta announced the following measures:

Effective March 17, 2020, Alberta has declared a state of emergency under the Public Health Act. As a result, the following public health measures are in effect:

  • Mass gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited, including conferences, worship gatherings, weddings and funerals. Grocery stores, shopping centres, healthcare facilities, airports, the legislature and other essential services are exempt.
  • Attendance at public recreation centres and private entertainment facilities is prohibited, including casinos, racing entertainment centres, bingo halls, swimming pools, gyms, science centres, arenas, art galleries, community centres, children’s play centres and museums.
  • Attendance at bars and nightclubs, where minors are prohibited by law, is restricted.
  • Buffet restaurants are closed. Other restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, food courts and other food-serving facilities, including those with minors-allowed liquor licenses, are only permitted to operate at 50% capacity up to a maximum of 50 people. Not-for-profit community kitchens, soup kitchens and religious kitchens are exempt.

Effective March 17, 2020, travellers returning from outside of the country where Calgary is their final destination must take reasonable steps to self-isolate for 14 days.

Effective March 17, 2020, changes to the Employment Standards Code will be implemented to allow full-time and part-time employees to take up to 14 days of job-protected leave if they are required to self-isolate, or are caring for a child or dependent adult who is required to self-isolate. To take this leave, employees will not be required to provide their employer with a medical note or to have worked for their employer for 90 days. Employers should make business plans in light of COVID-19 in order to protect their employees, to limit the spread in the workplace, to ensure continuity of critical services, and to consider alternative working arrangements

Effective March 16, 2020:

  • Travellers returning from outside of the country should self-isolate for 14 days. Persons with symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate for 14 days, take the COVID-19 self-assessment test and call Health Link 811 for testing and instructions.
  • Student attendance at schools is prohibited but teachers and other staff will continue to attend their schools to plan potential alternatives for students. In-person classes at post-secondary institutions are cancelled but online classes may be offered.
  • Licensed child care, out-of-school care programs and preschool programs are closed but approved day homes are exempt.
  • Visits to provincial correctional facilities and young offender centres are suspended and visits to long-term care and other continuing care facilities are limited to essential visitors only.
  • Alberta Parks’ recreation facilities, programs, events and bookings are closed and/or cancelled.
  • The Provincial Court of Alberta and Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta are limiting operations.



The Government of Saskatchewan announced the following measures:

On March 17, 2020, the provincial government introduced and passed legislation that will provide job protected leave in light of the novel coronavirus.  We have been lamenting the complete lack of reasonable temporary layoff provisions in Saskatchewan; the new legislation makes it unnecessary for employers to lay-off employees.  Here are the primary points:

  • The Public Health Emergency Leave provision applies where Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer (“Officer”) orders that people must take measures to reduce the spread of disease, including through isolating themselves. On March 17, 2020, the Officer issued an order limiting public gatherings, restricting access to long-term care homes, personal care homes, group homes and hospitals, and indefinitely suspending classes in all primary and secondary educational initiatives, so we consider this condition precedent to be met and, if it is not, that a further order will be forthcoming.
  • Employees are entitled to the Public Health Emergency Leave if any of: (a) their employer; (b) a medical practitioner; (c) the Government; or (d) the Officer directs them to isolate themselves to reduce the spread of disease. They are also entitled to the Leave if they must care for a child family member who is affected by a direction or order of the Government or the Officer (such as school closures).
    • Note that employees may be entitled to this unpaid leave from their first day of work and do not need to provide a written note in support from a medical practitioner – there is no exception for probationary employees in their first 13 weeks of work.
    • That is, if an employer directs their employees to isolate themselves to prevent or reduce the spread of the disease, then the employees are placed on unpaid Public Health Emergency Leave.  Effectively, this places an employee on protected, unpaid leave that does not result in a temporary layoff or termination, and which does not trigger payment of severance.  As with all employment leaves, employees are entitled to remain on their benefit plan, if the terms of the plan permit, and so long as the employee continues to pay the required benefit plan contributions.
  • Employees are entitled to their regular wages and benefits during the leave so long as they are authorized to work at home, follow the Officer’s order, and follow any additional regulations passed by Government. Conversely, if an employee on leave is not authorized to work from home, or does not follow the Officer’s order, they are not entitled to their regular wages.
  • Employers must reinstate employees returning from a Public Health Emergency Leave, which would occur when the Officer rescinds the public health order.  That is, there are no recall provisions and there is no limit (at this time) on how long this leave can last.
  • The amendments are retroactive to March 6, 2020.
  • The Chief Medical Health Officer orders that visitors to long-term care homes, hospitals, personal care homes and group homes are restricted to essential visitors only.  Essential visitors means immediate family visiting for compassionate reasons.
  • Faith-based organizations are no longer exempt from public gathering restrictions, ordering that no public gathering of over 250 people in any one room take place.
  • All travellers returning from international destinations – including the United States – need to self-isolate and monitor their health for 14 days upon return.  Travellers returning from within Canada are advised to self-monitor for 14 days upon return.
  • The Government of Saskatchewan has launched a new COVID-19 self-assessment tool to determine whether Saskatchewan residents should be tested for COVID-19.
  • SaskGaming will suspend operations and temporarily close Casinos Regina and Moose Jaw until further notice upon advice of public health officials on the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Schools (K-12) are winding down the week of March 16 – 20 and will close indefinitely as of March 20, along with all childcare centres located within public schools.
  • Saskatchewan Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench are limiting operations.



The Government of Manitoba announced the following measures:

Effective March 20, all licensed childcare centres in Manitoba will be closed.

Effective March 17, all casinos will be shut down at midnight.

Effective March 16, the provincial government has requested that employers not require sick notes from their employees in order to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on the health care system. It has also urged employers to update their business continuity plans and to ensure that employees can remain home if they are sick.

Additionally, the provincial government has clarified to transportation industry partners that public health officials are not currently mandating drivers to self-isolate after crossing the border, in order to ensure that essential services continue.



The Government of Ontario announced the following measures:

Effective March 17, 2020, a state of emergency was declared in Ontario pursuant to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The Government of Ontario has ordered the closure of indoor recreation centres, theatres, concert venues, libraries, places of private schools, licensed childcare centres, and bars and restaurants (except for delivery/take-out). In addition, all public events of over 50 people are prohibited, including in places of worship. These orders will continue in effect until March 31, 2020.

On March 16, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced it would introduce legislation to provide unpaid, job-protected leave to workers who:

  • are under medical investigation, supervision or treatment for COVID-19;
  • are acting in accordance with an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act;
  • are in isolation or quarantine;
  • are acting in accordance with public health information or direction;
  • are directed not to report to work by the employer; or
  • need to provide care to a person for a reason related to COVID-19 such as school or daycare closures.

Employers will not be able to ask for sick notes to substantiate the leaves.



The Government of Quebec announced the following measures:

Effective March 17 end of day, the Assemblée Nationale is adjourned until April 21.

Effective March 17, Quebec has extended tax filing season for individuals to June 1. Taxes owed will not need to be paid until July 31. Individuals are advised to file by April 30, especially if they expect a tax return. Corporations must still respect the usual tax filing deadline, however they will not be expected to pay any owed amounts until July 31.

Effective March 16, a temporary aid program for workers called Programme d’aide temporaire aux travailleurs (PATT) has been implemented to assist individuals who are asked to self-isolate or are put under quarantine and are otherwise ineligible for Employment Insurance (for example, independent contractors). Such individuals can apply to PATT and receive up to $573 per week for a period of 14 days to one month. This amount will be non-taxable. Quebec Premier François Legault announced that PATT application forms should be available as early as this Thursday, March 19 and, once applications are accepted, recipients can expect to receive funds within 48 hours. PATT is aimed solely at providing financial support to workers who are at risk of infecting others, encouraging those individuals to stay home without having to fear the financial repercussions of doing so.

Effective March 15, pursuant to the powers granted by the above decree, restaurants and cafés were ordered to operate at 50% capacity with respect to seating areas and many recreational and leisure activity centers were ordered to close.

Effective March 13, a decree declaring a health emergency throughout Quebec territory was passed pursuant to the Public Health Emergency provisions of Quebec’s Public Health Act. The decree is effective for a period of 10 days and ordered the closure of educational and daycare establishments, forbade indoor gatherings of more than 250 persons, and granted authority to Quebec’s Minister of health and social services to effect purchases, conclude contracts, and take any other necessary measures.


Newfoundland and Labrador

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the following measures:

Effective March 16, “business continuity plans” are being implemented for public sector employers. Public service employees already deemed critical to their organization’s operations are expected to report to work as normal. Any other employees required to work in person or at home on Tuesday March 17 will have been contacted during the evening of March 16 by their senior management. All other employees should stay at home until advised otherwise, but should remain available for possible deployment. This directive does not apply to employees in the health care sector.

Effective March 14, the provincial government will work towards providing compensation to private sector employers to ensure continuation of pay for employees required to self-isolate after returning to Canada from abroad. Employees should retain documents regarding their travel to facilitate reimbursement. Provincial public sector employees affected by the decision will continue to be paid as usual. Only those individuals scheduled to return to work within the self-isolation period will be compensated, and anybody embarking on travel outside of the country after March 14 is not eligible for compensation. Any public sector employee in self-isolation who has the ability to work from home is expected to do so. Any worker who travelled and returned to work prior to March 14 should continue working, unless they begin showing symptoms, at which point they should self-isolate. Updates about the required documentation for private sector employers to obtain reimbursement will be released in the coming days.


New Brunswick

The Government of New Brunswick announced the following measures:

Effective March 17, employers should be aware that the following businesses and public spaces will be closed until further notice: libraries; museums; theatres; performance spaces; swimming pools, spas, saunas and water parks; recreational sites such as ski resorts, amusement parks, trampoline centres, etc.; cinemas and arcades; training centres and dance, spinning, zumba and yoga centres; arenas; indoor soccer centres; zoos; aquariums; bars and discotheques; restaurants that offer buffets; and sugar bush operations open to the public.

Effective March 16, the provincial government has recommended that private sector companies encourage their employees to work from home wherever feasible and focus on critical activities.

Effective March 16, all schools across the province will be closed for two weeks.


Prince Edward Island

The Government of Prince Edward Island announced the following measures:

Effective March 17, the government has established a phone line to address the needs of PEI’s employers. The phone line will operated daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time and can be reached at 1-866-222-1751.

Effective March 17, all childcare centers are closed until further notice; in light of this, the government has indicated that they will be looking at “appropriate compensation for workers” in light of this development.

Effective March 16, PEI announced the creation of a $25 million COVID-19 Emergency Contingency Fund. This fund is intended to help Islanders, employees, small business operators and other employers who have been financially affected by the virus. More details will be released in the coming days.


Nova Scotia

The Government of Nova Scotia announced the following measures:

Effective March 16, the provincial government has instructed organizations and businesses to practice social distancing of two meters or six feet and to keep gatherings below 150 people “or much smaller if possible.” This directive applies to “restaurants, bars, movie theatres and other gathering spots.” The provincial government has also asked employers to consider flexible hours or alternative work arrangements, and has stated that employers should not ask for doctors’ notes if employees get sick or need to self-isolate.


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