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As governments limit non-essential travel, what becomes essential?

On March 18, President Donald Trump announced the Canada and US border would close to non-essential travel out of "mutual consent." CNN's Sara Sidner reports

Posted: Mar 20, 2020 5:21 AM
Updated: Mar 20, 2020 5:21 AM

Freedom of movement at the world's longest land border diminished on Wednesday when President Donald Trump announced restrictions on travel between the United States and Canada.

"We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!" Trump tweeted.

The decision will transform life at the northern US border with Canada, which nearly 200,000 people cross each day. And it's just one of a slew of travel restrictions appearing as world governments cope with the spreading coronavirus.

On Monday, the European Union announced it would close its borders to non-essential travel. In the UK, the Foreign Office has advised against all but essential international travel for a period of 30 days.

In some cases, employers, organizations and even government agencies are limiting non-essential travel.

On Wednesday, March 11, the US Department of State suspended non-essential travel by staff, with Reuters reporting an anonymous source saying individual decisions were being left to each respective US embassy, consulate and bureau.

That leaves many wondering what qualifies as non-essential travel. The answer, it turns out, is not always straightforward or even easily enforceable.

What it means on the US-Canada border

In a news briefing on March 18, a reporter asked President Trump to define non-essential travel between the United States and Canada.

"Well I think essential is medical, we have military working together, we have industry working together, and again, it's not affecting trade, so things like that," said President Trump. "But just leisurely 'let's go to a restaurant and have dinner,' which a lot of people do ... we have ended on a temporary basis."

His reply underscored the lack of official clarity around the term.

In Ottawa on the morning of March 18, Canadian Prime Minister Justin emphasized that both governments see supply chains as essential. "These supply chains ensure that food, fuel and lifesaving medicines reach people on both sides of the border," Trudeau said, noting that trucking would not be affected.

The restriction, which Trump suggested could last 30 days, will prevent tourists from traveling between the two countries. "We're telling our citizens not to visit their neighbors if they don't absolutely have to," said Prime Minister Trudeau at his press conference. "These measures will last in place as long as we feel they need to last." Enforcement details are yet to be made public.

Restrictions for the rest of the world

The US Centers for Disease Control's Warning Level 3, the agency's most severe advisory, now applies to Malaysia, Iran, China, South Korea, Europe, the UK and Ireland. In addition to warning against all cruise travel, that alert recommends Americans avoid all non-essential travel to listed countries, saying "the outbreak is of high risk to travelers and no precautions are available to protect against the identified increased risk."

Despite the gravity of the advisory, the CDC still leaves it up to the individual to interpret what is, and what isn't, essential travel.

And when it comes to restricting or recommending against non-essential travel, government decisions have varied widely.

A March 17 press release by the UK government advising against all non-essential travel stated that "whether travel is essential or not is a personal decision." The Telegraph reports that it's the first time the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made such a sweeping advisory.

The European Union proposed stricter rules on non-essential travel across the external borders of the bloc, narrowly defining the exemptions. Only goods, medical equipment and some people working to manage the spread of the coronavirus will be allowed to enter the EU for a period of 30 days.

In recent days, travelers have reported being turned back at the borders of the EU when their journeys were deemed non-essential.

What is a lockdown?

Some countries and regions are taking even more stringent measures, sometimes called "lockdowns" or "shelter-in-place."

On Tuesday, March 17, the San Francisco Bay Area implemented an unprecedented public health order asking residents to stay at home except for essential needs.

The order, which is in place through April 7, says residents may leave their homes to get food, care for friends and relatives, exercise, seek necessary health care and travel to essential jobs. Nearly 7 million residents are affected by the new rule, and government officials have announced that failure to comply with it is a misdemeanor offense. But there is currently no requirement of proof that you're allowed to be outside.

It's the United States' first taste of the sweeping lockdowns that have been put in place in Italy, France and Spain.

As new coronavirus infections have slowed in China, Italy has become the new face of the epidemic. The entire country is under a total lockdown, with police patrolling streets to ask citizens if they have a valid reason to be out. As in San Francisco, valid reasons include food shopping, health reasons and work.

When residents violate the order, they may face criminal charges. On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that Italy was charging nearly 40,000 people for violating lockdown.

On Tuesday, France was also put into a lockdown. For a period of at least 15 days, anyone leaving the home must fill out and sign a paper explaining why they're out, with valid reasons including shopping for groceries and medicine, caring for family or getting to work when remote working is impossible. An exception is also made for the needs of pets.

Rules can vary by city, region or country.

Rules can vary by country

Spain is implementing serious restrictions as well, including closing land borders to everyone but Spanish citizens, residents and those citing force majeure.

The country has declared a "state of alarm" for an initial period of 15 days. During the state of alarm, individuals may only go out in public for a specified list of activities, including shopping for groceries or medicine, getting medical care, going to work, helping vulnerable people and going to financial institutions.

In the United States, it remains to be seen whether stringent shelter-in-place orders will become more widespread.

After New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested the city should be prepared for a possible shelter in place order, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea, questioning the legality of such a ruling.

He said all actions should be statewide, and called on Americans to remain calm in the face of coming disruptions. "This is an extraordinary time in this nation's history," he said. "It's a character test for us collectively as a society."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36716

Reported Deaths: 1482
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin11892776
Ramsey4724218
Stearns228719
Dakota221889
Anoka2124107
Nobles16556
Olmsted105815
Washington102540
Mower9282
Rice8247
Scott6714
Clay57637
Kandiyohi5651
Wright4485
Blue Earth4222
Todd4002
Carver3481
Lyon3002
Sherburne2974
Freeborn2860
Steele2190
Benton2083
Watonwan2060
St. Louis16915
Martin1615
Nicollet14912
Cottonwood1340
Goodhue1248
Winona11915
Pine1030
Crow Wing10212
Chisago951
Otter Tail921
Le Sueur861
McLeod850
Carlton830
Dodge810
Polk812
Unassigned8137
Chippewa761
Itasca6512
Isanti640
Douglas610
Meeker581
Waseca580
Morrison571
Becker550
Jackson540
Faribault530
Murray510
Pennington510
Sibley482
Mille Lacs342
Brown312
Wabasha310
Rock290
Yellow Medicine290
Beltrami280
Renville282
Fillmore270
Pipestone261
Houston240
Norman200
Swift201
Wilkin203
Redwood170
Wadena150
Aitkin140
Big Stone140
Kanabec141
Koochiching141
Cass122
Marshall120
Pope100
Lincoln90
Roseau90
Grant80
Clearwater70
Mahnomen71
Lake60
Hubbard50
Traverse50
Lac qui Parle40
Stevens40
Red Lake30
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 29429

Reported Deaths: 716
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6120178
Woodbury317744
Black Hawk213058
Buena Vista169711
Linn121582
Dallas119429
Johnson11818
Marshall101618
Story7223
Pottawattamie70111
Wapello70130
Crawford6672
Scott66410
Muscatine62044
Dubuque53922
Sioux4570
Tama45129
Wright3750
Louisa36013
Jasper31817
Plymouth3054
Dickinson2492
Warren2491
Washington2299
Hamilton1851
Webster1682
Boone1361
Allamakee1264
Clarke1262
Clay1260
Mahaska11517
Shelby1060
Cerro Gordo1051
Poweshiek1048
Clinton991
Bremer886
Carroll861
Des Moines853
Pocahontas841
Henry823
Taylor790
Franklin780
Cedar771
Emmet750
Cherokee730
Monona710
Floyd662
Marion660
Guthrie644
Hardin630
Sac630
Benton591
Osceola560
Jones550
Jefferson530
Harrison510
Humboldt511
Iowa500
Monroe506
Lee492
Butler472
Calhoun472
Hancock470
Buchanan461
Delaware451
Lyon400
Clayton393
Davis381
Madison372
Grundy340
Mills340
Fayette330
Kossuth320
Winneshiek320
Palo Alto310
Lucas304
Greene280
Mitchell280
Chickasaw270
Howard270
Winnebago260
Jackson250
Union250
Ida220
Appanoose203
Page200
Keokuk191
Van Buren190
Cass170
Audubon161
Adair150
Ringgold150
Worth140
Decatur100
Montgomery102
Adams80
Wayne80
Fremont70
Unassigned40
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