OTTAWA — Canada continued to ramp up its fight against COVID-19 on Friday, enlisting the help of the corporate world and taking further measures to limit border crossings as the number of cases across the country climbed toward a bleak milestone.

Ontario announced 50 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the national tally over 900. Recent provincial case counts suggested the figure could eclipse the 1,000 mark by day’s end.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has long been emphasizing the need for personal actions to curb the spread of the illness, said companies will be shifting their practices to produce more goods needed for the ongoing containment effort.

“Canada is home to some of the best innovators in the world, and … we will harness some of that know-how to get through these challenging times,” Trudeau said at a news conference outside his home, where he has been in self-isolation for a week.

Trudeau said the government would help businesses such as auto parts manufacturers switch gears to production of goods such as badly needed medical supplies. Businesses already producing items such as masks and hand sanitizer, he added, will also receive support as they ramp up their operations.

Trudeau also announced a reversal of a previously announced measure related to the pending border closure with the United States, which was expected to go into effect later on Friday.

Rather than placing asylum seekers entering Canada on foot in isolation as previously announced, Trudeau said they would be treated the same as most other travellers and turned away at the border.

Trudeau described the move as an exceptional, temporary measure to protect Canadians.

The mutual agreement between Ottawa and Washington will see the border closed to all but trade and essential travel at 11:59 p.m. on Friday as both countries grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Thousands of people have been crossing into Canada from the U.S. using unofficial entry points to get around a deal that forbids people from lodging asylum claims at land border crossings. The Quebec government had voiced opposition to the previous Liberal plan to isolate would-be asylum seekers rather than turning them back at the border.

Drastic provincial measures to combat the outbreak also continued to mount on Friday, with Manitoba becoming the latest jurisdiction to declare a state of emergency.

Premier Brian Pallister said the decision to limit public gatherings to less than 50 people was difficult, but described it as a necessary measure to contain the still growing outbreak.

Canadians have been trying to come to grips with a surreal new norm over the past week as the pandemic increasingly encroaches on every-day life. Businesses, schools and previously routine activities have been shutting down en masse as a growing number of people are forced into self-isolation or urged to practice social distancing to help “flatten the curve.”

Trudeau said Service Canada and other government agencies have seen an exponential surge of calls for help in recent weeks, noting the government some logged 500,000 applications for employment insurance this past week, compared to 27,000 during the same period a year ago.

—by Michelle McQuigge in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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