Via Financial Times

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the US and Canada will close their land border to non-essential traffic, the latest dramatic restrictions on movement aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus as their economies reel from the pandemic.

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected,” Mr Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

The move follows the decision to ban travel to the US by non-Americans from most European nations for 30 days. The White House has escalated its response to the crisis after what was widely panned as too slow a start in tackling the disease. 

The number of coronavirus cases in the US has soared to 6,500 as more people are able to get tested. Health authorities have warned that the US has roughly two weeks to use measures such as severe social distancing to slow the spread of the virus and try to ensure that the US does not end up in the same kind of dramatic situation as Italy.

Canada has reported 569 confirmed cases of coronavirus. In addition to the border closure, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, on Wednesday announced a C$82bn ($57bn) stimulus package and concessions to support the domestic economy as it grapples with the pandemic and plunging oil prices. 

Edward Alden, a trade and immigration expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the new restrictions would see border officials questioning drivers about their reasons for travelling and making “a judgment as to whether such entry is essential or not”. 

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Mr Alden said people working in critical sectors would probably not be blocked, pointing to the example of nurses working in Detroit who live across the border in Canada. While Mr Trump said the move would not hit trade, it would still affect the economy.

“It will be more of a hit for the US economy in the short run than the Canadian economy,” Mr Alden said. “You have more Canadians coming down to spend money in the US than vice versa. I think that’s where you’ll see the biggest effect.”

While Mr Trump was criticised for banning travel from Europe last week, many nations have since taken dramatic steps to prevent non-citizens from crossing their borders. Some have even imposed unprecedented lockdowns to curb domestic movements.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron this week banned the French from doing anything outside other than essential errands for a period of at least two weeks, saying France “was at war”. 

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the country would shut down shops, churches, and hospitality businesses from bars to restaurants. Northern California has also imposed Italy-style lockdowns to curb the disease. 

Elsewhere in the US, cities are imposing restrictions on restaurants and bars, as health authorities have advised that people do not gather in groups of 10 or more. And the White House coronavirus task force has urged younger people in particular to avoid large meetings because of the risk of passing the disease to more vulnerable older people.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi