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Canada, US in touch ‘almost daily’ in coronavirus battle: minister

Champagne strikes a diplomatic tone as he describes a ``science-first'' approach that includes the government's Five Eyes security partners.

March 10, 2020   by James McCarten

WASHINGTON — The federal government and the United States are communicating “almost daily” in a collective effort to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus north of the border and across North America, Canada’s foreign affairs minister said.

Francois-Philippe Champagne struck a diplomatic tone as he described a “science-first” approach that includes the government’s Five Eyes security partners – the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand – to keep COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, from running amok across the continent.

“We have been guided by science, we have been guided by the World Health Organization advisory and we’re continuing to work with our Five Eyes partners,” Champagne said. “I would say our relationship and our interaction (with the US) is going well – it’s almost daily at all levels of government – to make sure that we protect the safety of all Canadians.”

The muted statement stood in contrast to alarm in the US, where critics fear President Donald Trump and members of his administration are more preoccupied with managing the political fallout in an election year than they are with the crisis itself.

“The notion that we can’t do our day jobs and work on this very serious issue is absurd,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a conference call. “We’re taking COVID-19 incredibly seriously, and our teams, our public-health agencies, are actively working as we sit here and also trying to reform the entire health-care system.”

Champagne said the US asked for Canada’s help repatriating some of the 237 Canadians from the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked March 9 in Oakland, Calif. Those who are healthy will be quarantined at a military base in Trenton, Ont., while any Canadians who test positive will stay behind and undergo treatment in the US.

Canada has been working closely with the US on the cruise passengers “to make sure that not only do we protect the health and safety of Canadians both at home and abroad, but we also are mindful of how we can protect North America from the threat of the virus,” he said.

Dr. Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response in the US Department of Health and Human Services, said local California residents would leave the ship first, followed by the foreign nationals, including the Canadians. The remaining passengers will remain on board until March 10.

All passengers are being tested before disembarking. No details about the health of the Canadian passengers were released.

In an election year, it’s hardly surprising that Trump would be preoccupied with the political consequences.

“The more we know about this developing crisis, the more it is becoming clear that not only is the Trump administration incompetent, but that our current dysfunctional health-care system is vastly underprepared for this pandemic,” Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said in an email to supporters.

“Sadly, I have very little confidence in the Trump administration to do anything that is right or decent, or certainly based on science.”

Then there was the market reaction: a 2,000-point plunge in the Dow Jones index on a frantic day that saw trading halted temporarily to give investors a chance to catch their breath and resist panic selling.

Cross-border supply chains are already beginning to feel the impact, said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, who specializes in the Canada-US corridor.

One central issue for suppliers and manufacturers is the question of “force majeure” – a legal principle that refers to a major disruption like a war, civil unrest, a natural disaster or “act of God” that makes it impossible to fulfil the terms of a contract. Whether the outbreak can be considered as such is sure to be a major point of future litigation, Ujczo said.

“At the moment, everyone is just putting out the fires of the day to keep supply chains moving,” he said. “The fallout will come later in the spring, as companies regroup to assess economic impact, restructure procurement and suppliers, and, of course, litigate for damages.”

The political and the practical intersected in other ways.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather and Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow said they would be self-isolating for precautionary reasons after three people who attended a prominent pro-Israel conference in Washington last week tested positive for the virus. Housefather attended the conference in person, while Matlow said he had contact with an attendee. Neither has symptoms.

Trump himself may have had contact, too: he was photographed shaking hands with Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, during the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. Schlapp reportedly shook hands with an attendee who later tested positive. The president has also had close contact with two House Republicans who are now self-isolating after attending CPAC.

 


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