Coronavirus: Quebec leader asks seniors to stay in, 'snowbirds' to fly back to Canada

Ottawa (AFP) –


Quebec's premier told seniors Saturday to stay home to avoid contracting the new coronavirus, and urged "snowbirds" -- retired Canadians who spend winters in sunny US states -- to fly back to Canada now.

"The elderly are much more at risk of serious consequences. As a society, we have to do everything to protect older people," Premier Francois Legault told a news conference.

His administration declared a public health emergency a day after Ottawa announced aggressive new measures and money to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including asking Canadians to avoid all but essential foreign travel.

The federal government, however, has so far resisted growing calls to limit incoming travelers after the United States banned flights from Europe.

"If I were them, I'd come home as soon as possible," Legault also said about more than 300,000 Canadian "snowbirds" who live up to six months each year in the United States. He said they risked being stranded as fewer international flights are likely to be available in coming weeks.

Florida, California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Texas are the most popular US destinations for Canadian "snowbirds."

As of 1300 GMT Saturday, said Health Canada, 193 cases of the COVID-19 virus have been confirmed in Canada, including one death.

Quebec, with 21 cases but 853 people under investigation, has taken among the strongest measures in the country to try to prevent the spread of the illness, as of Saturday closing schools, banning visits to hospitals and seniors residences, and asking all persons over 70 to stay home.

Other Canadian political leaders, meanwhile, urged against panic shopping and hoarding as Canadians rushed to empty store shelves of groceries, toilet paper, and over the counter cold and flu medicines.