Canada’s Trudeau warns virus restrictions could last weeks, months

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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media outside his home in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 16, 2020. (REUTERS)
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A passenger wearing protective clothing against the COVID-19 coronavirus uses a self check-in machine at Incheon international airport, west of Seoul, on March 17, 2020. (AFP)
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A shopper walks through an aisle empty of pasta, rice, beans and soup, amid an atmosphere of growing numbers of coronavirus cases, at a Loblaws supermarket in Toronto, Ontario, Canada March 14, 2020. (REUTERS)
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A man wears a mask and a hat with an Irish symbol of shamrock designs as he walks in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP)
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People wearing face masks walk along rapeseed farm where canola oil is taken in Jiujiang, Chinaís central Jiangxi province on March 14, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 18 March 2020

Canada’s Trudeau warns virus restrictions could last weeks, months

  • The Emergency Measures Act has only been used once since the two World Wars

OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday urged Canadians to hunker down for possibly weeks or months of business closures and home-stay to prevent the spread of new coronavirus.
He said his government was preparing to roll out a new package of financial supports — worth Can$25 billion ($18 billion), according to public broadcaster CBC — to ease the burden on Canadians and their businesses.
His government is also considering using the Emergency Measures Act, an extremely rare measure.
“We don’t know exactly how long this is going to take,” Trudeau said of the health crisis.
“It could be weeks. It could be months,” he told a news conference outside his residence where he and his family are self-isolating after his wife Sophie tested positive for the COVID-19 illness.
“But we will be there, standing together to support Canadians in order to get through this extremely difficult time.”
According to public health officials, the number of cases in Canada has risen to nearly 600, including eight deaths. The latest fatalities, one in Ontario province and three in British Columbia, were recorded on Tuesday.
The Emergency Measures Act has only been used once since the two World Wars. It would allow the government to suspend civil liberties and impose restrictions on the movement of people and goods — which so far have been mostly voluntary.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said turning to emergency measures would be a “last resort.”
“It’s a very serious step, which grants extraordinary powers to the federal government,” she acknowledged. “We would never introduce it without careful consultation.”

During the First and Second World Wars, it was used to intern thousands of recent immigrants labeled “enemy aliens.”
It was last used when it was still known as the War Measures Act and Trudeau’s father, then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, invoked it to deploy soldiers during the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec province after the kidnappings of British and Quebec officials by the Front de Liberation du Quebec.
On Monday, Canada closed its border to most foreigners except Americans.
Airlines were ordered not to allow passengers with flu-like symptoms to board, while all inbound international flights will be redirected to airports in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, where public health screenings will be stepped up.
On Tuesday WestJet, Canada’s second largest airline, announced it was suspending international flights, after flagship carrier Air Canada said it would soon halve its number of foreign flights.
Public broadcaster CBC said the aid package would be disbursed through existing programs such as employment insurance and a child tax benefit. The broadcaster cited an unnamed government official as saying: “People need rent money and groceries. Businesses need to bridge to better times.”
“As much as possible, stay home,” Trudeau urged on Tuesday. “Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Work remotely if you can. Let the kids run around a bit in the house.”
With young people not getting the message, Quebec province on Tuesday enlisted the help of artists and athletes including Samuel Piette, a player with Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer.
“This is not the time to have parties,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault said.

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.