Canada border towns 'petrified' by prospect of looser U.S. coronavirus measures

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian towns along the country’s U.S. border fear they will be harmed if the United States eases measures aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, with some making contingency plans and others appealing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene.

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U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he wants the U.S. economy to reopen by Easter Sunday, April 12, despite the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the United States and a rising death toll from the disease.

Health experts, along with some U.S. governors and industry leaders, oppose any proposal that would prematurely end stay-at-home mandates designed to slow the spread of the virus.

“I’m petrified of what that would mean for Canada,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, whose town is located an hour’s drive across the border from Flint, Michigan, and is Canada’s second busiest truck crossing.

The majority of Canada’s population lives within 100 km of the 8,891-km (5,525-mile) border, according to the 2016 Census, and more than a quarter of a million people cross it on a normal day.

That traffic has been severely curtailed during the pandemic after Canada and the United States agreed to shut the border to all non-essential travel as of March 20.

Asked about Trump’s Easter plans, Trudeau said on Thursday he would work with the United States to “ensure that the border measures we put in place are respected.”

The United States has reported about 70,000 coronavirus cases and at least 1,070 deaths

Several Canadian provinces have closed businesses and schools indefinitely. Among large U.S. border states, New York and Washington, which have seen major outbreaks, have issued stay-at-home orders.

The city of Windsor in Ontario is in talks with Detroit officials about using empty hotels in the Michigan city as quarantine quarters for thousands of Windsor residents who work across the Detroit River in Detroit’s hospitals, medical centers and auto plants.

If the United States eases containment standards, these Canadian workers could have to stay in Detroit “so that they don’t have to go home and possibly infect their families,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

Two of Windsor’s four cases have come from travel to Michigan, Dilkens said. The state has had a stay-at-home order in place since Monday.

In Niagara Falls in Canada, a popular tourist destination across the river from its namesake in New York state, city officials want Ottawa to push back hard via diplomatic channels against any U.S. measures that could further spread the virus.

“We grew up crossing the border, our families are over there, we go shopping,” the city’s mayor, Jim Diodati said, adding residents do not want the border to reopen any time soon.

“At this time, we’re saying ... leave it closed down.”

Additional reporting by Denise Paglinawan; Editing by Amran Abocar and Aurora Ellis