OTTAWA -- Canada is forging new ground in its response to the global spread of COVID-19 with no official playbook on how safeguards should roll out country-wide. As each level of government takes a different approach to try to contain the spread of the virus, Canadians are so far dealing with a piecemeal approach.

The federal government has focused on injecting funds into national needs, like health care research, medical supplies and the economy, and announced restrictions on international and domestic travel. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pleaded with Canadians to stay home and self-isolate, yet hasn’t gone so far as to declare a nation-wide state of emergency. However, he said he isn’t ruling out, at some point, initiating the Emergencies Act which would give the government sweeping powers including prohibiting travel within the country and directing any person to render essential services.

Meanwhile, each province is implementing their own measures. As of April 15, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island have all declared a state of emergency. Alberta, Northwest Territories, Quebec, and Newfoundland & Labrador have issued public health emergencies. Similar warnings have been applied at the municipal level as well.

Different levels of government can initiate either depending on their unique laws and the nature of the event, but the differences between both are relatively minor. A public health emergency limits the government’s power to health-related measures, while a state of emergency is more broad in scope.

Here’s a brief breakdown of each province’s response:


On March 17, the Alberta government issued a state of public health emergency within the province. This prompted a ban on mass gatherings of more than 50 people, which has since been reduced to 15 people. All non-essential businesses including physiotherapy and dentistry clinics, as well as facilities including gyms, arenas, museums, galleries, libraries, and casinos have also been required to close. Recreational vehicle visits to provincial parks are banned. Restaurants have been ordered to shut down expect for those that offer takeout. Failing to abide by these public health guidelines can result in fines. The government has also made it law for Albertans to self-isolate for 14 days following international travel, and 10 days for people with symptoms not related to a pre-existing illness. The state of public health emergency has been extended 90 days until June 15.

British Columbia

A day after issuing a public health emergency within the province, the B.C. government declared a state of emergency to support the province-wide response on March 18. The last time the province did so was during the 2017 wildfire season. It gives authorities powers to access land and assets, restrict travel anywhere in the province, and control the price of food, fuel, and clothing. Bars, clubs and restaurants have been ordered to close if they can’t respect social distancing rules – which prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people. On Monday, Vancouver city council introduced new financial penalties for businesses and individuals caught violating public health directives. The state of emergency has been extended to April 29.


On March 20, Manitoba followed suit and issued a state of emergency. Premier Brian Pallister said in a news conference it will enable the government "to react more quickly on a broad range of supportive measures to stop the spread for COVID-19." As in other provinces, while non-essential operations like gyms and child care centres are closed, essential services like hospitals and grocery stores are exempt from emergency protocol. Fines of up to $50,000 or a 6-month jail sentence for an individual and $500,000 for businesses violating guidelines were also applied province-wide. Anyone entering the province from domestic or international travel must self-isolate for 14 days. The state of emergency will last 30 days.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick declared a state of emergency on March 19 to mitigate the pandemic. In response, all retail operations were ordered to close, except for essential services. "Before this was a recommendation, today it's a requirement," Premier Blaine Higgs said in the news conference announcing the decision. Owners and operators permitted to stay open are required to limit gatherings to 10 people. All travellers – international and domestic – returning to the province are required to self-isolate for 14-days. All unnecessary travel into New Brunswick is prohibited. Those in violation will face penalties, financial or otherwise. The state of emergency has been extended until April 30.

Newfoundland & Labrador

Newfoundland & Labrador declared a public health emergency on March 18. Similar to a state of emergency, all non-essential businesses including gyms, bars, movie theatres, bingo halls, and arenas are ordered to close. Gatherings of more than 10 are prohibited. "A person found in breach of these orders could face a fine or jail time. Essential services including grocery stores and pharmacies are permitted to keep their doors open. Gatherings of more than 10 are prohibited. A corporation found in breach of these orders could face a fine of $5,000 to $50,000," reads the press release. The state of public health emergency has been renewed until April 30.

Nova Scotia

Premier Stephen McNeil announced a state of emergency on March 22 at a press conference on the COVID-19 spread in the province. More restrictive than some, this order requires gatherings to remain under five people. All non-essential businesses including gyms and theatres have been ordered to close. Some non-essential services like shopping malls have remained open so long as people adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Visits to provincial parks, beaches, and tourist hotspots are prohibited. The province is also tightening its borders and has required anyone who is returning to the province to self isolate for 14 days, even from domestic travels. Residents could face social distancing fines of $1,000 and $7,500 for businesses. The state of emergency has been extended until April 19.


Ontario initiated a state of emergency on March 17. This involves a closure of public facilities like those noted above. Last week, Premier Ford also ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses for 14 days. "We must act decisively. We must not delay," said Ford. The government has also prohibited public events of more than 50 and social gatherings of more than five. All recreational amenities including fields, playgrounds, and beaches have been ordered to close. The state of emergency has been extended to May 12.


On March 16, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King enacted a public health emergency, this was followed up by a call to encourage people to work from home and self-isolate if possible. Like the measures noted above, non-essential services like libraries, child-care facilities, gyms, and schools have been closed for the emergency period. Authorities have also encourage islanders to avoid social gatherings where a two-metre gap between people isn’t possible. Individuals will face fines of up to $10,000 if they violate self-isolation rules following international travel and domestic travel after March 21. On April 16, the province subsequently declared a state of emergency, which authorities said doesn’t "replace" the public health emergency. This measure is in effect until April 30.


On March 13, for the first time in Quebec’s history, the government declared a public health emergency. Like other provincial governments, it gives Premier Francois Legault’s administration licence to act and spend more quickly – without going through the regular processes – to protect residents. As in Ontario, the Quebec government this week mandated that all non-essential businesses close until April 13. All social gatherings are prohibited, as the province’s cases rise. Fines of $1,000 are in place for individuals who fail to uphold social distancing rules. The state of public health emergency has been renewed until May 4.


Saskatchewan announced a state of emergency on March 18. Public gatherings of more than 10 are prohibited – take out restaurants can remain open if they able to maintain a two-metre distance between customers during pick-up. “Pulling together means we need to stay apart,” said Premier Scott Moe during a press conference. Libraries, gyms, casinos and child care facilities are closed. Residents could face a fine of $2,000 for failing to self-isolate for 14-days after international travel. Individual cities have also declared states of emergency as in other provinces. The provincial state of emergency has been extended until April 29.

The federal government has maintained they remain in close contact with their provincial counterparts about the best approach to mitigate the spread of the virus nation-wide. Federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu holds a weekly call with provincial and territorial ministers to discuss the Liberal’s efforts to provide more support and resources to provinces. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to address Canadians each day from self-isolation as he provides updates on the government’s national COVID-19 response.