COVID-19: Trudeau Wishes Boris Johnson “Speedy Recovery” and Salutes Canadian Caregivers

Coronavirus

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outside Rideau Cottage for his daily press conference, wished U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson a speedy recovery. Photo: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began his daily press briefing today by saying his thoughts are with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19.

Johnson, 55, is the only world leader to contract the illness. He was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London yesterday where he is listed in stable condition and is receiving “standard oxygen treatment.”

“I’ve worked with Boris for some time now and I know how committed he is to serving the people of the U.K.,” said Trudeau, assuring Britain that all Canadians wish him a speedy recovery. “He’s a fighter and he will be fighting now to regain his health and get back to the job he loves.”

With today being World Health Day and National Caregiver Day, the prime minister used the opportunity to thank “health-care professionals and caregivers who are working day and night to keep us safe and care for our most vulnerable.” Noting that “our health care system is only as strong as the people it employs,” Trudeau offered his gratitude “for everything you have done for us.”

The stress of these gruelling press briefings appears to be wearing on the prime minister. Today, he lacked the cheerful optimism he usually shows during his daily addresses and several times ignored questions, stumbled over words or failed to find the right turn of phrase that usually comes so easily.

While answering a question about the advisability of wearing non-surgical masks, Trudeau said they can prevent people from “breathing or moistly speaking” on others. Realizing what he had just said, the prime minister shuddered and added, “What a terrible image.”

However, even without his A-game, he pressed on, offering Canadians encouragement that the government is working hard to overcome the “scarcity” of testing kits, respirators and protective equipment for frontline medical health workers.

He noted that 3M had agreed to release 500,000 masks, which had been held up at the border, and said his government was “in touch with suppliers around the world.” He also announced that manufacturers here have struck a deal with the government to produce 30,000 “made-in-Canada” respirators, which should begin making their way off the assembly line in the coming weeks and months.

Trudeau said he hoped there wouldn’t be a need for so many respirators but that it was “better to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.” He deflected questions about Canada’s lack of preparedness for medical and protective equipment to deal with the outbreak, concluding, “We’re seeing now that the entire world was unprepared.”

When asked about whether he agreed with police forces and by-law officers who are issuing tickets to Canadians who don’t abide by COVID-19 self-isolation restrictions, Trudeau said, “I believe it is important for people to be motivated and encouraged to abide by the directives and need to know there are consequences when they don’t.” However, the prime minister said he also expects police forces to “use their good judgment about issuing tickets.”  —Peter Muggeridge

April 6

Trudeau Discusses Humboldt Anniversary, Credit Card Interest Relief, U.S. Mask Shipments

In his daily press conference, Prime Minister Trudeau alluded to Queen Elizabeth’s emotional “We’ll Meet Again” broadcast where she alluded to the specifically British qualities that will help England get through this agonizing crisis.

Trudeau said that our own indomitable Canadian spirit is particularly evident today, the second anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crash that took the lives of 16 players and coaches from that small Saskatchewan town. He said that the “incredible strength and resilience” shown by the people of Humboldt and the outpouring of support the town received from communities across Canada remind us that “no one should feel alone” and that “together we can get through the darkest of times.”

And Trudeau also addressed the growing controversy of U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to block the shipment of masks and protective equipment to Canada. Earlier today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that unless a blocked shipment of three million masks crosses the border, the province could run out of masks by the end of the week.

The prime minister said that his government has had “productive and positive conversations” with U.S. officials about the delayed shipments of crucial protective equipment. With mask shortage “a reality around the world,” Trudeau said, “we are expecting these shipments to be delivered.”

The other big announcement from today’s press conference is that Canada’s big banks have agreed to reduce interest rates on credit card debt for people “experiencing financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic.” While details of the credit card interest rate cut were vague (more information can be found at ratehub.ca), Trudeau said, “We need to see even more action like this going forward because this is a time to think about each other, not about the bottom line.”

Trudeau announced that the government relief for those who’ve lost their jobs due to COVID-19 is finally beginning to flow. According the to the prime minister, 240,000 applications for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) have already been processed as of Monday morning and that the money will be in bank accounts in three to five days.

Applicants can apply online at Canada.ca.  If you are unable to apply online, you can call 1-800-959-2041. The government is accepting applications based on the month you were born:

  • For Monday, April 6, Canadians born in January, February and March are able to apply.
  • For Tuesday, April 7, Canadians born in April, May and June are able to apply.
  • On Wednesday, April 8, Canadians born in July, August and September are able to apply.
  • Thursday, April 9, Canadians born in October, November and December are able to apply.

For those who aren’t covered by the CERB, Trudeau assured them they won’t slip through the cracks. “Whatever your circumstances are, we’re working hard to help you,” he said, making special mention of those who can’t benefit from the CERB or Wage Subsidy Program.

The prime minister, who noted that he will be visiting his office more often now that his 14-day period of self-isolation has ended, said that in the coming days he will reconvene Parliament to debate and pass legislation on the government’s wage subsidy program, which has taken on a different look than the proposals passed in the original relief bill, C-13. He also noted that in order to “give confidence to the people of Canada that Parliament is working for you,” he and the opposition parties are working on ways to “virtually reconvene” Parliament so that all MPs from across the country can participate.

And he also assured Canadians that provinces across Canada will soon have access to more COVID-19 test kits, saying, “Large-scale testing is a key element to flattening the curve” of the coronavirus and that “testing will be an essential part of how we get through this.”  –Peter Muggeridge

April 3

Ontario Advises “Protecting the Elderly” And Releases Modelling Numbers; Trudeau Condemns Trump’s “Huge Mistake”

Ontario public health officials unveiled new provincial models for the COVID-19 pandemic this afternoon, projecting up to 80,000 new cases and 1,600 deaths in the month of April if current intervention and prevention techniques remain in place. The models show that the numbers of new provincial cases could drop as low as 12,500 and deaths as low as 200 with updated intervention and prevention techniques.

“We are following a trajectory somewhat similar to that in the United States, not quite as good currently as that as in British Columbia,” Dr. Peter Donnelly, president and CEO of Public Health Ontario, said during the press conference. He cautioned, though, saying, “When one tracks cases, it really is rather difficult to know where exactly you stand. You have to watch it extremely carefully because it is rather dependent on who you test for the disease.”

Currently, Ontario has 3,255 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 67 confirmed deaths. Donnelly noted “the high mortality rate of those over the age of 80,” which is currently at 16 per cent and remains slightly lower than the global tally of 20 per cent.

“It tells us,” he said, “we must focus on protecting the elderly.”

That includes, he suggested, putting a “ring of steel” around long-term care homes in an effort to protect residents. He also added that snowbirds returning to Ontario must go directly home and isolate rather than interacting with members of their community and asked neighbours to provide assistance by picking up groceries and other necessities for them.

Ultimately, the models show the potential for anywhere between 3,000 and 15,000 deaths in Ontario over the course of the pandemic, which Donnelly pointed out could last between 18 months and two years due to “a smaller second or tertiary wave” before it’s completely gone from the province. How much people adhere to the guidelines on isolation and social distancing accounts for the wide gap in the projection numbers. Officials also noted that the models are not predictions but rather warnings of what could happen.

The good news, however, is that models show that up to 100,000 Ontarians could have died from COVID-19 had no preventions been put in place, indicating that initiatives to promote self-isolating and social distancing are working.

In a follow-up press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford noted that he wanted Ontarians to see the same statistics he’d seen and acknowledged the stark reality of the situation. But he also thanked doctors and health experts for their help in aiding the government in doing everything possible to protect the province.

“The numbers also show that everything we’ve done so far, everything we’ve done together since this started, is working,” Ford added. “The numbers clearly show that we have collectively saved thousands of lives. But we also know that we can’t stop now.”

COVID-19
A jogger keeps his distance from a woman walking her dog on an empty street in downtown Toronto. Photo: Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

Donnelly, meanwhile, praised early provincial initiatives, including the closure of schools, limiting visitations to long-term care homes, the encouragement of social distancing, prohibitions on large gatherings and the closure of non-essential workplaces and parks and recreational activities. But he pointed to additional public health measures that he hopes will blunt the impact of COVID-19 on the province even more.

“This is not about flattening the curve,” he said. “It’s about chopping the top off the curve.”

According to the modelling charts, immediate new public health measures include an enhanced capacity for case and contact tracing and increased testing for COVID-19, with a focus on long-term care, retirement homes and other congregate settings.

The charts also provided guidelines for future measures, which include:

  • Reducing the number and types of essential workplaces.
  • Enhancing a focus on enforcement and fines for non-compliance.
  • Expanding direction/guidance on physical distancing, including retail settings.
  • Enhancing support for elderly, homeless and other vulnerable populations and communities.
  • Considering entry restrictions in some communities including First Nations.
  • Managing human resources (movement of health-care workers between settings).
  • Using technology to reinforce self-isolation (alerts).
  • Additional public education and communication (shelter-in-place with limited exceptions).

To that end, Premier Ford announced the shutdown of more non-essential businesses including all industrial construction beginning on Saturday, April 4 at 11:59 p.m.. Critical construction projects, including the building of hospitals and necessary housing, will remain in operation, though Ford said new inspections of ongoing construction sites will take place and new inspectors added, with sites shut down if they don’t meet the required safety conditions. Essential services like grocery stores and  pharmacies will remain open, as will restaurants doing delivery and pick up.

The premier also said his government is prepared to take every step possible to ensure public safety and asked the public to do more to help their own communities.

“If they don’t do it, we’re going to be in serious, serious trouble,” he said in response to a question about people congregating in public as the weather gets nicer. He added that he wants to avoid having to take emergency measures to force people to stay home. “The vast majority are listening.”

Trudeau Calls Trump’s Order to Halt Shipment of Masks to Canada “A Huge Mistake”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that it would be a “huge mistake” for the U.S. administration to block medical supply manufacturers from exporting their products to Canada.

Addressing U.S. President Donald Trump’s order to prohibit 3M, a company that manufactures health-care protective equipment (notably masks) that are in huge demand, to stop exporting goods to Canada, Trudeau said, “We’re working very closely with the U.S. in order for them to understand that trade between Canada and the U.S. is a two-way street, especially for critical and essential goods and services.”

“We have thousands of nurses from Windsor who work in Detroit daily, and the Americans depend on them,” said Trudeau. “It would be a huge mistake for both countries to restrict staff and services across the border, both ways.”

The prime minister said his government was “working very closely with the Americans highlighting that the level of integration between our economies goes both ways. We are receiving essential supplies from the U.S. But the U.S. also receives essential supplies and products – and health-care professionals – from Canada.”

When asked whether Canada would retaliate to the Trump order – either by not allowing health-care workers to cross the border or stopping shipment of medical supplies to the U.S. – Trudeau responded, “For the present, we are confident that we will continue receiving what we need.”

“3M has indicated how important it is to continue delivering on orders to Canada,” said Trudeau, adding that any disruption of the supply chain could end up “hurting Americans as much as it does anyone else.” He said that Canadian government officials are reinforcing this point with the U.S. administration and feels “that message is getting through.” He predicted that the “close and deep relationship with the U.S. will hold strong and that we will not see interruption of supply chains in either direction.”

The prime minister also announced that an agreement had been made with Amazon Canada to use its “wide distribution network” to guarantee the supply and delivery of medical equipment to wear it’s most needed.

And he noted that the premier of Quebec, François Legault, has requested the federal government to deploy the Armed Forces to “isolated and remote” communities in that province. – Peter Muggeridge

April 2

Trudeau Explains Why Government Won’t Release COVID-19 Projection Models

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent most of his press conference today fending off questions about why the government won’t release projections on the number of Canadians who may become infected by COVID-19.

Trudeau said that in a phone call with the premiers tonight, he would discuss both the medical equipment needs for each region as well as data sharing and modelling. “Provinces have been making significant progress on testing backlogs, which is giving experts important data to analyze,” he said.

Although he admitted that Canadians “want to see the numbers and predictions,” these projections will have to wait until all the data was “analyzed and validated.”

While other countries, such as New Zealand and the U.S., have been very upfront with their own projections, Canada still hasn’t released any infection-rate models. As to when these projections would be forthcoming, the prime minister again wouldn’t be specific, other than saying they were coming “soon.”

In terms of the raw data on the number of cases and where the cases are, “We’re making sure that those numbers get out there,” said Trudeau. “We’re going to continue to work on those analyses and to crunch the data and continue to be open with Canadians about the projections.”

“Those models depend on the behaviour of Canadians today, yesterday and tomorrow,” he said, again encouraging people to follow self-isolation and social distancing rules.

When asked whether the government was not releasing infection models for fear of causing “anguish and panic,” the prime minister ducked the question, saying that in order to give “clear information to Canadians,” the government needs to “analyze all the data.”

Another reporter pushed Trudeau on why his government, which has its own internal COVID-19 models, isn’t releasing them to the public. The prime minister said that when he talks to the premiers tonight, he will  discuss “how to make sure all our various sources of data are aligned so that we can get more accurate models.” But before releasing this “sophisticated modelling work,” the government must ensure that it “makes sense” and “reflects what’s going to happen in Canada and various regions across the country.”

While infection-rate projections dominated today’s press conference, Trudeau also addressed other matters. He said he was “very concerned” with reports that medical supplies bound for Canada were being diverted to the U.S. Trudeau noted that his government was in contact with U.S. officials on the matter, saying, “We need to ensure that equipment destined for Canada makes its way to Canada.”

The prime minster again said that he didn’t feel it was yet necessary to use the federal Emergency Act to enforce Canadians to stay at home and self-isolate. He would consider such a move only when the provinces have exhausted all their powers they have in their respective emergency measures acts.  —Peter Muggeridge

 

April 1

The big question on everyone’s mind is how long the COVID-19 public health measures will last.

Today, in his daily press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed this monumental question, saying the government has developed a “range of scenarios” that could see self-isolation measures last “a number of weeks, perhaps months.

“We will only know when we get there,” he said, noting that the duration will depend largely on the “choices and behaviour of Canadians.”

Trudeau also announced that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, monthly payments to help unemployed workers get through the COVID-19 crisis, will be available starting April 6. This is available to workers who are not covered by the government’s wage subsidy program.

To begin receiving CERB payments, the prime minister explained, unemployed workers must register online at the government’s website, Canada.ca. For those who have already submitted a request for Employment Insurance, you do not have to register again. You should begin receiving your payments in three to five days by electronic deposit or 10 days by mail. If you are unable to register online, you can call the Canada Revenue Agency for help.

“Everyone will get their money,” promised Trudeau, adding that it is the largest economic program in our nation’s history. “Canada hasn’t seen this type of civic mobilization since the Second World War. These historic measures will help Canadians stay at home to defeat COVID-19.”

Earlier this morning, Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer noted in a press conference that many of the new measures being announced by the government are not contained in the original relief legislation Bill C-13, passed last week by Parliament. In response, Trudeau said he would reconvene Parliament so it could vote on the expanded plan. “This must be a Team Canada effort,” he said.

When asked about overcoming the shortage of medical protective equipment — which is becoming a major problem in Quebec and Ontario – Trudeau assured health professionals that “equipment will be arriving shortly” and that it will be sent to the provinces most in need. He pointed out that some companies have stepped up and offered to manufacture masks, respirators, gowns and other medical supplies. However, he stopped short of saying that his government would force companies to begin producing these products.

Trudeau also fielded questions about the wisdom of allowing Canadians who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to re-enter the country. Trudeau said the government would continue to allow Canadians to come home. “We want Canadians to come home. But we expect and demand that they self-isolate in rigorous conditions for two weeks. We would much rather people be at home rather than stranded elsewhere.”

The prime minister closed his press conference by appealing to all Canadians to “answer the call of duty” and “serve your country” by observing public health rules. “We must fulfill our collective responsibility to each other.”

“How well we do this right now will determine where our country will be in two weeks and two months,” said the prime minister. “We all have a moral obligation to stay at home and protect each other. By working together, we’ll get through it.”  —Peter Muggeridge

March 31

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his daily press conference to thank and praise Canadian entrepreneurs and manufacturers that have “stepped up to the plate” to help overcome the shortage of  supplies desperately needed by front line medical workers.

“In difficult times, we don’t back down from a challenge,” said Trudeau. “We roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

“We know that the demand for critical equipment and supplies will grow in the coming weeks,” said the prime minister. “So we need a sustainable, stable supply of these products. We’re optimistic that they will be available in the coming weeks.”

Trudeau said that the government’s plan to mobilize industry to fight COVID-19 are bearing fruit. Many businesses responded by retooling their operations to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – surgical masks, face shields, respirators, hand sanitizers – for health care workers. He thanked the more than 3,000 companies that have “reached out to offer their help.”

At a time when some hospitals are asking nurses to take home their masks and wash them for re-use, Trudeau announced agreements with three Canadian companies to manufacture medical equipment, surgical masks, tests and respirators. “By mobilizing industry, we’ll be able to produce, here at home, the goods that our health-care professionals need to protect their own health and treat patients suffering who are suffering from COVID-19.”

Trudeau said his government is in constant communication with medical officials in all the provinces in order to “make the determination where supplies are most needed.”

He also said the government has freed up $2 billion for provinces to purchase more masks, face shields, gowns, respirators, swabs and hand sanitizers. While he emphasized the need to produce these PPEs in Canada, he also said that the government will continue efforts to purchase them from global suppliers. “We’re expecting shipments to arrive in the coming days,” he said.

When asked whether a mini-war among countries (especially the U.S.) to snap up much needed medical supplies was hindering Canada’s chances, “The entire world is trying to get their hands on the equipment needed to fight this virus,” said Trudeau. “I’m incredibly proud of Canadian companies, suppliers and manufacturers who are stepping up. It has been a truly amazing and inspiring story to see.”

“We are, of course, working to make sure that we receive shipments of needed supplies in the coming days,” he said, “by ensuring that we have solutions in Canada to cover our needs. Our priority every step of the way is to ensure that Canada is able to take care of its own.”

March 30

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today more details on how the government will help businesses and individuals “weather the storm” of COVID-19 and position the economy to “roar back” once the crisis has passed.

This Prime Minister’s announcement followed up on comments he made on Sunday, where he assured vulnerable groups — including seniors — that help is on the way. “While the COVID-19 pandemic affects all Canadians, some people and communities are more at risk to its impacts,” he said.

As seniors are considered the group “most at risk,” Trudeau announced a $9 million package that would go toward ensuring that “community supports” — such as delivery of groceries, medications or other needed items — remain operating during the crisis. The money will be administered by the United Way Canada, which will funnel the money to local organizations that assist seniors in communities across Canada.

As part of the effort to help the vulnerable, Trudeau also announced further supports, including $150 million to help the homeless, $50 million for women’s shelters and sexual assault shelters and $7.5 million to Kids Help Phone to keep up with increased demand for mental health support.

Federal Seniors Minister Deb Schulte noted that while “physical distancing is essential to protecting seniors from COVID-19, it risks isolating them from their community.” She says that the new money will go toward making sure that older Canadians are not cut off from much needed supports in their communities and continue to receive help “tailored to the unique local needs of seniors across the country.”

In his Monday morning press conference, the prime minister clarified details about the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, a program that is there to ensure that workers “have money to buy groceries” for the time being and that they’ll have a “job to come back to” when the crisis passes.

“We know what businesses are going through,” said Trudeau. “For people to get through these tough times and for the economy to rebound, people have to keep their jobs.”

The wage subsidy program will soon be available to qualifying businesses (to all businesses of any size) that can show their revenue has decreased by 30 per cent because of COVID-19.

Under the wage subsidy program, the government will cover up to 75 per cent of the wages of employees (for qualifying companies) on the first $58,700 that you earn. This will result in a maximum of $847 a week for affected employees. As well as noting that this assistance will be back-dated to March 15, Trudeau called on companies to top-up the remaining 25 per cent.

“This subsidy will make a real difference in your lives and help everybody bridge to better times,” said Trudeau.

The prime minister called on businesses to make sure that every dollar of government support received goes to employees, suggesting there will be “serious consequences” for companies that try to “game or take advantage” of the system. In a callout to all business leaders, he pleaded: “We trust you to do the right thing.”

The prime minister also noted that the Canadian Armed Forces are “gearing up to support communities as we fight COVID-19.” While the government hasn’t received any request from the provinces for military assistance, if that situation changes, “the Armed Forces will be prepared to answer the call as they have done throughout our history.”

During questions, Trudeau downplayed the mounting costs that battling COVID-19 is putting on the treasury, saying the important focus right now is on protecting Canadians, keeping health-care workers safe and making sure that everyone keep their jobs. “We will get through this. That’s what this is about,” he said.

When asked whether Canada was doing a better job than the U.S. in battling the spread of COVID-19, Trudeau said, “We are not on the same trajectory as the U.S.” because we were “quicker to get the screening done” and that we’ve had “more success in getting people to self-isolate.” But he admitted that, in a week or two, we will know whether “our efforts have borne fruit.”

Trudeau concluded his comments today by thanking all those front-line workers who are “doing an incredible job helping all Canadians.” He acknowledged that “going to work right now is stressful” but that we need “your essential work to keep us safe. We cannot thank you enough.”  —Peter Muggeridge

 

March 28

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces new domestic travel restrictions to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections between provinces, an epidemiology update confirms most of the country’s cases are in people aged 40 to 59, but those aged 60 and older are more likely to end up in the ICU.

On Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada said 34 per cent of the country’s 4,043 COVID-19 cases were in the 40 to 59 age bracket. Meanwhile, the country’s total number of cases jumped to 5,153 with 55 deaths on Saturday.

The public health data showed 28 per cent of cases are in those aged 20 to 39, while older adults 60 to 79 represent just 23 per cent of infections. Canadians 19 and under are at 5 per cent.

But the latest hospital data for 1,413 cases confirm what we already know: Although 28 per cent who went to hospital were 60 and up, a much higher proportion of those older Canadians – 56 per cent – were hospitalized and 52 per cent were admitted to intensive care units.

When asked how she would summarize the data, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said at a press briefing on Saturday: “This is a serious illness. The picture it will paint is that there are serious consequences of hospitalizations.

“It would also tell us that even though severe impacts are on the older population, it doesn’t mean the younger population is not affected. The bulk of the illness is in the younger demographic, while the heaviest impacts are on the older age groups.”

The briefing followed Trudeau’s announcement that, starting Monday at noon, all people travelling within Canada by train or plane will be screened for COVID-19, and if they show any signs of illness – such as a fever, cough or difficulty breathing – they will not be allowed to board.

“It will be important for operators of airlines and trains to ensure that people who are exhibiting symptoms do not board those trains,” he said in his briefing outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Saturday. “It will be a Transport Canada rule that will be enforced, but at the same time, we’re telling people stay home if it’s not absolutely essential for you to travel.”

It doesn’t apply to bus trips or commuter trains, which are regulated by provincial and municipal governments.

Transport Canada published “guidance material” on health checks for airline operators under the interim order from the minister. It asks them to look for visible signs of illness and to ask questions about a passenger’s health. Boarding will be denied if people refuse to answer the questions or if they admit to having COVID-19 symptoms, and they won’t be allowed to travel for 14 days.

The directive comes as Canadian flight crews fear for their health and safety on the job, after CBC reported more than a dozen attendants and one Air Transat pilot is sick with COVID-19. Some are demanding haz-mat suits rather than just masks, gloves, wipes and sanitizer.

The one bright spot in the country was B.C., which is having some success in flattening its curve.

Still, Tam cautioned Canadians not to let their guard down and continue to practice social distancing in public – which means staying at least two metres away from other people – and to stay at home if they are sick.

“I want to emphasize that, of course, if the trends are slowing down a bit, our key message is not to relax. Our key message is to double down,” she said. “Right now is an absolutely critical time.”

On Friday, B.C. provincial health minster Dr. Bonnie Henry said the provincial government’s modelling showed cumulative cases had slowed compared to the rest of Canada.

“Our rate of growth is being impacted in a positive way by the measures we have adopted in the last few weeks, which is good news,” Henry said at a briefing in Victoria. “We are not out of the woods by any means yet. We will still need to track this carefully and still need to continue these measures that we’re taking.”

The province’s Centre for Disease Control released a technical briefing that showed, as of March 23, B.C.’s cumulative confirmed cases were following a similar trajectory as South Korea, where 9,241 people have been infected and 131 have died, but new cases decreased to 104 today, down from a peak of 909 on Feb. 29.

B.C. announced 67 new cases Friday, bringing the total to 792 and 16 deaths, compared to Quebec, the hardest hit with 2,498 cases and 22 deaths, and Ontario, with 1,118 and 18 deaths.

Meanwhile, a group of Ontario experts called the COVID-10 command table cleared 400 hospital beds by cancelling elective surgeries in anticipation of a spike in cases, according to the Toronto Star. –Kim Honey

Friday, March 27  2:30 p.m.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz held a joint press conference to explain how the government and central bank are making every effort possible to help the economy survive the impact of COVID-19.

Assuring Canadians that “your government will back you up all the way,” Morneau said the government spending measures amount to more than $100 billion dollars (in benefits and deferred taxes) so far and that more will come if needed. “We have not put a cap on what we might spend or on what we might need to spend,” said Morneau. “The spending is very significant now, and it’s possible we’ll need to make it more significant.”

Besides reiterating the wage and loan subsidy measures announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this morning, Morneau said the government will unveil further relief packages for the airline and energy industries, two sectors that have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 fallout.

Poloz said his job during the crisis is to stimulate the market and “maintain the flow of credit so that banks can operate” throughout these difficult times. By lowering interest rates to 0.25 per cent today, Poloz said he hoped to “buffer” the markets through this “economic shock.”

Acknowledging that it’s unlikely interest rates can go any lower, he further announced that the central bank will step up its quantitative easing efforts, buying commercial paper assets and government bonds to ensure the banks remain liquid until the “economic recovery is well underway.” He feels these measures are necessary to ensure a “robust return” when things normalize and to “limit or avoid permanent damage to the economy.”

Poloz defended the aggressive moves by the Bank of Canada and the government, saying “no firefighter has ever been criticized for using too much water.”

Morneau and Poloz also discussed joint efforts by the government and central bank to ensure that provinces don’t run out of money.
Peter Muggeridge

March 27  1 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced emergency funding today to help small and medium-sized businesses continue to operate over the next months and to keep their workers on the payroll.

During Trudeau’s daily press conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa where he remains in self-isolation, the prime minister directed his comments to the small businesses and entrepreneurs, noting “For many of you, the past few weeks have been heart-breaking” as this “climate of uncertainty threatens everything you have worked for.”

Saying now is the time for “strong fiscal action,” Trudeau announced new measures that will allow companies to avoid laying off workers during a time when “the pandemic has destabilized the world economy.”

The new business subsidy program is called the Canada Emergency Business Account. It will provide qualifying small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) with up to 75 per cent of wages. “This means people will continue to be paid even though their employers have to slow down or stop their businesses,” said the prime minister.

As part of this relief plan, Trudeau noted that SMEs, which he called the “backbone of our economy,” will also be able to apply for one-year interest-free loans of up to $40,000 as well as an initiative by the Export Development Bank to provide government-backed loans to distressed SMEs. As well, the government will defer GST/HST payments until June, which Trudeau said would provide SMEs with a further savings of up to $30 billion.

The full details of the Canada Emergency Business Account will be announced on Monday.

“We hope these measures will encourage employers to reconsider laying off employees,” said Trudeau, while issuing a plea to SMEs: “Please keep your employees on the payroll.”

Noting that the country had a healthy balance sheet before entering this period of crisis, Trudeau said, “We are confident we can continue to support people in their time of need. We will support you through this time.”

And he struck an optimistic tone, saying, “Our economy will bounce back. We will return to prosperity. We can come back stronger than ever before.”

When asked by a reporter how long Canadians and the economy will remain in shut-down mode, Trudeau said, “We’re talking about weeks and possibly months.”  But he noted that it largely depends on  us. “If we continue to listen to the experts, we will get out of this much more quickly.”

Trudeau ducked questions on when the government will provide a budget or fiscal update concerning the billions of dollars in new spending measures. He also refused to say whether he will drop the planned increase to the carbon tax, which is due to kick in on April 1.

He also said that his government had expressed to the U.S. that posting troops along the borders between the two countries would be a “mistake.”

March 27  10 a.m.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for COVID-19, the first world leader and second major public figure in the country to be infected with the novel coronavirus. Earlier this week, Prince Charles also tested positive after he arrived at his home on Balmoral estate in Scotland.

In a video posted on his Twitter feed, Johnson said he was experiencing mild symptoms of the coronavirus, namely “a temperature and persistent cough.”

The 55-year-old prime minister who, in the early days of the pandemic, was accused of not taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously enough is in self-isolation at his apartment at 11 Downing Street, where his meals are being dropped off at the door. His pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds, is in self-isolation as well, although it is not clear whether she is living at the Downing Street flat.

“Thanks to the wizardry of modern technology,” Johnson says he will continue to “communicate with my top team to lead the national fight against coronavirus.”

If Johnson’s illness forces him out of action, a government spokesperson confirmed that Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab will assume prime ministerial duties.

Johnson took the opportunity in his video to thank the “amazing staff” of the National Health Service, the police, social workers and “everyone who is working to keep the country going through this epidemic.”

He concluded by urging residents to stay at home to stop the virus from spreading from household to household. “The more effectively we comply with [public health] measures, the faster our country will come through this epidemic and the faster we’ll bounce back. We’re going to beat it and we’re going to beat it together. Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

As of this morning, the U.K. had 11,658 cases of COVID-19 and 578 deaths.

Earlier in the day, it was announced that England’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock had also tested positive for COVID-19.

Back at home, the Bank of Canada cut its key lending rate half a percentage point to 0.25 per cent in an effort to cushion the financial shock caused by COVID-19 pandemic and ease the burden of borrowing money.

March 26

The U.S. government has shelved a plan to station troops along the border with Canada after Deputy Prime Minster Chrystia Freeland made it clear Canada does not approve.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the two countries discussed a White House proposal to beef up its border presence in order to intercept illegal crossings at a time when COVID-19 cases are ravaging cities and states south of the border, Freeland was emphatic Canada is not on board.

“Canada is strongly opposed to the U.S. proposal, and we’ve made that very clear to our U.S. counterparts,” she said at a press conference that followed Trudeau’s daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.

The United States now has 80,071 confirmed cases of COVID-19, third highest in the world behind Italy, with 80, 589 and China with 81,285.

Freeland said Canadian officials first became aware of the plan a few days ago. Although cabinet ministers and diplomats have been talking with their U.S. colleagues, they have not yet gone up the chain of command to the level of Secretary of States Mike Pompeo or U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence.

“We are very directly and very forcefully expressing the view I shared a moment ago, which is that in Canada’s view, this is an entirely unnecessary step, which we will view as damaging to our relationship.”

At the same briefing, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam confirmed most Canadians returning to Canada – there have been a million since March 14 — were complying with a recommendation to self-isolate for 14 days, but a minority were not.

Now that the Quarantine Act has been invoked, anyone caught defying the 14-day self-isolation edict — which means staying home and not going out at all, even for groceries — could be fined or even arrested.

Both symptomatic and asymptomatic people arriving at borders and airports will be instructed to get home as quickly as they can, without stopping for groceries or to see anyone, and stay in and around their homes for 14 days. Transportation assistance will be provided for those arriving with symptoms of COVID -19 and, where possible, deliver them to their homes.

After that, local public health authorities will be doing spot checks by phone and possibly in person to ensure the quarantine is being observed.

Those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms who share a residence with vulnerable people, including the elderly and those with underlying health issues, cannot go home. They will be sent to quarantine sites being set up across the country and could include hotels as well as sites like CFB Trenton in Ontario, where hundreds of returning Canadians have already completed quarantine. Incoming travellers who are seriously will be sent to hospital.

When asked what penalties people may face, Tam would only say: “There can be hefty penalties … and hopefully that will not happen. This is a serious deterrent, a reminder.”

The good news is that Canada’s current fatality rate from COVID-19 is just one per cent, but she said no one should should assume it will stay that low. As of this morning, Canada was reporting 35 deaths and more than 3,400 confirmed cases.

“Anyone unconvinced about the seriousness of the situation should look to countries like Italy.”  —Tara Losinski

March 25,  3 p.m.

The government will be enforcing the Quarantine Act at midnight Wednesday, which means it will be mandatory for all travellers to Canada to go into self-isolation for 14 days upon their return.

That means they are to stay at home, monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and avoid contact with other people when they go outside the house, which means staying at least two metres apart from others and washing hands frequently.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a press conference Wednesday the edict is not retroactive, and only applies to Canadians returning from abroad, including the U.S., beginning at midnight.

The government will collect the contact information of all returning passengers and will follow up with them as they self-quarantine. Freeland said Health Minister Patty Hajdu will enforce self-isolation under the act,  which allows the government to fine and even arrest anyone who violates  quarantine.

“In terms of specific penalties, we will be giving more information later,” Freeland said.

In a special sitting of Senate this afternoon, Hajdu said travellers who show symptoms of COVID-19 will be forbidden from using public transit to get home or wherever they plan to go into self-isolation, and cannot quarantine themselves in a place where they will be in contact with vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. The Public Health Agency of Canada is making arrangements for the transportation and temporary housing for those who need it.

The move comes after Hajdu repeatedly warned she would take stronger measures to enforce self-isolation. “Let me be perfectly clear,” she told reporters on Sunday, “we will use every measure in our toolbox at the federal level to ensure compliance.”

More than one million citizens and permanent residents have returned to Canada since March 14, with chief medical officers and premiers across the country pleading with snowbirds and March break travellers to observe what was initially a recommendation to self-isolate.

In Newfoundland, police arrested a 43-year-old woman in Corner Brook today who was out after a trip when other citizens complained that she was not self-isolating in accordance with a public health emergency order. A hotline introduced on the weekend received 400 complaints from citizens reporting other people who were flouting the order.

On March 20, Quebec police arrested a woman who had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the Limilou area of Montreal, who defied that province’s quarantine order and went out. –Tara Losinksi

March 25, 12:00 p.m.

 

In his daily press conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that “help is on it’s way” and explained how Canadians whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19 can apply for economic relief.

Trudeau began by acknowledging that “right now, a lot of people are sitting around the kitchen table with bills, trying to figure out what needs to be paid and how to plan for the coming months.”

He noted that if you’ve been laid off, had your hours reduced or are worried about your industry, the “hard truth is that people are out of work because of this crisis and worried about what comes next.”

To help alleviate this anxiety, Trudeau said that financial aid will begin flowing, following the passage of the relief bill. This assistance will be available through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will provide $2,000 a month for the next four months for workers (full-time, contract or self-employed) who lose their income as a result of COVID-19, for those who are sick or quarantined or for those who are forced to stay at home to care for loved ones.

Trudeau said that the CERB application portal will be launched “as soon as possible” and that people will begin receiving money within 10 days of applying. In order to expedite claims, the civil service is deploying workers from different departments to process what will likely be a flood of CERB claims. Although a firm timeline isn’t in place, the first cheques should start going out by the first two weeks of April.

Other countries such as England and Germany are flowing economic relief directly to businesses so they do not have to lay off workers. Trudeau acknowledged that while his government is “working with small business groups and hearing their concerns” — and exploring models in Denmark and Germany — he feels that providing economic relief to individuals is the right way to go.

Because of the financial impact on individuals, Trudeau called on employers, landlords and family friends to help those going through difficult times. “It’s by working together that we’ll get through this,” he said.

The prime minister also told reporters that his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who was diagnosed with COVID-19, was continuing to do well. However, he wouldn’t give an indication when he would end his self-isolation, which began 14 days ago.  —Peter Muggeridge

 

March 25,   10 a.m.

 

After a late-night session, filled with tense negotiations over a controversial clause, a scaled-down version of Parliament unanimously approved legislation of an $82 billion economic package to help workers and businesses impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Emergency Response Act was rushed through to ensure that $27 billion in financial assistance would immediately begin flowing to individuals and businesses affected by the virus.

The bill incorporates a variety of measures found in the Liberal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. That includes a Support for Seniors section with a proposal that would reduce the required minimum withdrawals from Register Retirement Income Funds (RRIFS) by 25 per cent, so seniors don’t have to liquidate their assets during these times of market volatility.

The plan also includes proposals aimed at helping the economy through this emergency by supporting small businesses, giving banks access to credit and supporting financial market liquidity.

The package offers a host of supports for individuals, including:

  • Allowing extra time to file taxes (June 1 is the new deadline for 2019 tax returns)
  • Mortgage support (payment deferral, loan re-amortization and special payment arrangements)
  • Improved access to Employment Insurance
  • Support for people sick or quarantined
  • Support for people with low income (a one-time payment for individuals and  couples who qualify)

The debate over the bill went into the early hours of Wednesday morning with just 32 MPs divided proportionally to reflect party standings. The bill’s passage was stymied by 11 Conservative MPs present who balked at a clause in the bill that would give sweeping fiscal powers to the finance minister to pass economic legislation without Parliament’s approval.

“The Liberals shamefully tried to use a public health crisis to give themselves the powers to raise taxes, debt and spending without parliamentary approval until Jan. 1, 2022,” said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. “But after hours of negotiation, the government has backed down.”

In a press conference earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the need for the clause to allow “governments to be able to help Canadians and react to a situation that we’ve seen is moving quickly every single day.” However, he accepted Parliament’s final decision to remove the offending clause saying, “We have a Parliament that works. We have an Opposition that is doing its job of making sure that we are taking the right steps the right way.”

At 6 a.m., the wording of the legislation was finally approved and the bill passed with unanimous support. This means it will not have to go through further readings or committee but will receive Royal Assent once it’s passed by the Senate, which should happen today.

Parliament is now adjourned until April 20 but could be called back at any time to deal with developing emergencies.

 

March 24

As Parliament reconvened at noon today to pass legislation on COVID-19 emergency measures, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his daily press conference to double down on his warning that individuals and businesses must follow self-isolation measures.

“If people do not follow these guidelines, we will put in place much more stringent measures,” Trudeau said. This could mean instituting the Emergency Act, legislation that gives the government special temporary powers to ensure safety and security during national emergencies.

In a conference call with the premiers last night, Trudeau said there was no unanimity on whether he should pursue such a drastic move.

Trudeau also couldn’t predict when the current guidelines will be lifted. “All I can say is we don’t know yet,” he said, adding that it largely depended on whether or not Canadians adhere to public behaviour mandates. “The duration of this crisis will be determined by the choices we make right now. So, if you want this to last shorter, then do your part,” Trudeau noted.

As to what moves may come next, Trudeau said: “Nothing is off the table. We are braced for a broad range of scenarios.” He assured Canadians that the government “will respond every step of the way with the necessary actions.”

And he spoke to working Canadians, saying that assistance is on its way, whether through Employment Insurance or direct support to businesses to keep employees on the payroll.

house of commons

As Trudeau wrapped up his press conference, a scaled-down version of Parliament was beginning to debate — and hopefully pass — the $82 billion emergency relief legislation. With only 32 politicians at today’s sitting (divided proportionally to reflect party standings), the House of Commons presented an eerie reminder of the troubled times in which we live.  —Peter Muggeridge

March 24  10 a.m.

The Liberal government has agreed to re-draft an extraordinary bill that would have given the minority government sweeping powers to tax and spend without Parliamentary approval.

Last night, the government announced it would change the draft of proposed legislation that sought to arm the finance minister with virtually unchecked fiscal powers to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Under the wording of the original bill, the finance minister would be granted new powers to raise or lower taxes, borrow and spend — all without Parliamentary approval.

Opposition leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement released last night that while the Conservatives were prepared to work with all parties to support Canadians during the COVID-19 crisis, it “will not give the government unlimited power to raise taxes without a parliamentary vote. We will authorize whatever spending measures are justified in response but not sign a blank cheque.” And NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted, “The Liberals should drop what we don’t agree on and focus on what we were sent here to do – deliver for Canadians.”

Bowing to pressure from all Opposition parties, Liberal House Leader Pablo Rodriguez tweeted that the government would not press ahead with the measure: “We consulted with the Opposition and will bring changes to the draft legislation. We will always work collaboratively and respect the fundamental role of Parliament.”

Today, a much pared-down version of Parliament will meet in Ottawa to pass emergency legislation to help alleviate the personal and economic damage wrought by the spread of the illness. Instead of a full House of Commons, 32 MPs (divided proportionally according to party standings) will debate the relief legislation that will include many of the fiscal measures announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in the past few weeks. —Peter Muggeridge

March 23

The Liberal government will table legislation on Tuesday that, if passed, will grant it extraordinary new powers never before held by any ruling party in Canada.

When Parliament reconvenes on Tuesday, a small number of MPs will gather to pass a multi-billion dollar support package to help individuals and businesses whose lives have been shattered by COVID-19. That part of the legislation should pass without a hitch.

However, according to Global News, the government will also ask Parliament to approve a sweeping new bill that would give the finance minister all-encompassing new powers to raise or lower taxes, borrow and spend without Parliamentary approval. The legislation also outlines that this new measure would be in place until December 2021.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux told the Globe and Mail  he felt that the draft legislation was “unprecedented,” saying it “would provide powers that go well beyond the initial response to COVID-19 announced last week. It seeks to circumvents parliament, for both spending and tax, by granting extraordinary powers to Cabinet and individual ministers.”

Under normal circumstances, all spending bills must go before Parliament for approval. The request to give unlimited fiscal powers to any government – especially  a minority government – is a shocking development and one that caught opposition parties off guard.

This has never happened before in Canada – not even during the two world wars. If passed, the legislation would not only give this Liberal minority unchecked spending privileges but also assures that the government will remain in power even if is defeated on a spending bill.  –Peter Muggeridge

Monday, March 23    2 p.m.

A stern Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued his strongest warning yet to those who do not heed public health advice to avoid groups of people, stay at least two metres away from everyone else and stay home to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“If you choose to ignore that advice, you’re not just putting yourself at risk, you’re putting others at risk, too,” Trudeau said in his daily press conference outside Rideau Cottage on Monday, where he is in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

“We’ve all seen the pictures online of people who think they’re invincible. Well, you’re not. Enough is enough.

Go home and stay home.”

He acknowledged how difficult it is to maintain social distance but also how crucial it is to protect those at higher risk of life-threatening complications, including health-care workers, people working in grocery stores and pharmacies and older people, espevcially with underlying health conditions. He urged families to call seniors “and tell them that you love them,” and gave a shout out to his father-in-law, Jean Grégoire, who is being treated for cancer. “Today is his birthday. He is 77. Happy birthday Jean Jean.

His remarks came after a weekend where Vancouverites basked en masse outside and Torontonians crowded city parks and neighbourhood sidewalks on daily walks.

“When we see people out enjoying the sunshine in big groups, that is extremely concerning … we need to slow and stop the spread of this virus if we are going to come through this strongly.”

Tonight at 6 p.m., Trudeau will join a conference call with provincial and territorial leaders, where they will discuss how municipal and provincial measures like declaring states of public health emergency are working and whether they need to close provincial borders to non-essential travel.

“Nothing that could help is off the table,” he said, and that includes invoking the Emergencies Act, which gives the federal government sweeping powers that supercede any provincial and territorial legislation. The Emergencies Act, which replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, has not been used since.

Mayors and premiers across the country were in the news all weekend with pleas for residents to observe social distancing and self-isolation, with Nova Scotia restricting travel at its borders this morning. All travellers arriving by land, air or sea will be stopped, questioned and told to self-isolate for 14 days. In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs said he will discuss invoking the same measures with Trudeau this evening.

Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart met with city council today, announcing on Twitter, “The time for asking nicely is over.” Anyone violating a city order could now be subject to a fine of up to $50,000.  “This is serious. Now is the time to shut down, stay put, save lives.” It comes after a weekend where residents packed parks, trails and beaches, and Stewart saying he even saw a group of people playing beer pong outside. “We will all need to be able to say, at the end of this, that we did our best to fight this,” he told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton this morning. “And right now we can’t.”

In further efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, both Ontario and Quebec announced the order to close all non-essential businesses within the coming days.

Trudeau will also speak with cabinet later today on legislating financial support measures in advance of an emergency session of Parliament tomorrow. He announced additional loans for farmers, amounting to a total of $173 million in loan deferrals through Farm Credit Canada.

At a press conference later in the day, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government is also considering mental health in its support of Canadians and will be releasing details about tools to be rolled out over the next couple days. –Tara Losinski

Ontario to Close More Businesses; Schools Won’t Reopen

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced he is closing all non-essential workplaces at midnight Tuesday for 14 days to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It comes after 78 new cases were reported in Ontario on Monday, raising the province’s total to 503. The sixth COVID-19-related death was announced after an 80-year-old man from Haliburton was hospitalized on Thursday and died Sunday afternoon.

The province will release a list of businesses that will be allowed to remain open on Tuesday, which Ford said will include grocery stores and pharmacies. He insisted that “the power will stay on” and telecommunications will continue to run, but said it is “not realistic” that schools will reopen April 6. Education Minister Stephen Lecce will have an announcement on school closures soon.

“This was a very, very tough decision, but it is the right decision,” Ford said at a press conference at Queen’s Park on Monday. “This decision was not made lightly and the gravity of this decision does not escape me, but as I’ve said from day one, we will and we must take all steps necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

He also encouraged Canadians to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus. “Please stay home,” he said. “Only leave if necessary,” adding that snowbirds returning home “must self-isolate.”

According to officials, more than 8,000 people are currently under investigation and nearly 20,000 people in the province have tested negative.

Ahead of Ford’s update, the province announced it would commit $200 million in relief funding directly to municipalities to help protect vulnerable populations, including those in poverty, the homeless and unemployed.

The government says the funds will support shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities and non-profits. It will also help people in financial crisis who are unable to access federal assistance to cover food costs, rent, medicine and other essential services.

Social Services Minister Todd Smith said the “funding is up and running immediately” and can be applied for at ontario.ca/community.

The minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said the vast majority of the funds — $148 million — will go directly to municipal staff running shelters and other social services, who are “on the ground and know the needs of their community best.”

According to Clark, the funds are “extremely flexible” and can be used to pay for hotel and motels, or to team up with local charities to help the homeless or those at risk of homelessness.  —Andrew Wright

Friday, March 20

Travel was top of mind as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed Canadians Friday about the government’s response to COVID-19.

“We are currently in discussion with Canadian airlines to help Canadians stranded abroad to come home,” he said, speaking to reporters outside his Rideau Cottage residence where he is in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tested positive for the novel coronavirus last week. The first plane to repatriate Canadians abroad will leave Morocco this weekend, where hundreds of Canadians are stranded after all international flights to and from the North African country were banned on Sunday.

The Prime Minister also confirmed a mutual closing of the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel, specifically for tourism and recreation, will go into effect at midnight Friday.

Trade and commerce will continue and exceptions will be made for essential workers, including truck drivers and health-care workers. For example, as many as 2,000 health-care professionals reportedly cross the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. every day to work in Michigan. And in January alone, more than 200,000 trucks of goods crossed into Canada there.

Trudeau also announced a new joint measure with the United States on people seeking asylum at borders, who will be turned back on both sides. Later in the day, Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair said the measure will help maintain “order and safety,” adding that it is “in line with Canadian values on the treatment of refugees.”

The prime minister unveiled a “plan to mobilize industry to fight COVID-19” to help businesses ramp up or re-tool manufacturing to produce critical supplies now in demand such as masks, hand sanitizer and even hospital ventilators. The government is asking businesses to reach out via the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada website.

Trudeau assured Canadians that public servants are working around the clock to respond to an “historic number of calls” to Service Canada, the federal government’s central access for social programs. The number of people applying for employment insurance this week was already at 500,000 compared with 27,000 last week.

He acknowledged that the continuing social distancing measures are difficult, thanking Iranian-Canadians who postponed festivities for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which began today.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs declared a state of emergency in part because of reports that people returning to the province, including snowbirds, are not self-isolating for 14 days as all travellers are being asked to do. He advised friends and family, for example, not to greet returning residents at airports.

“We will continue to make decisions based on the needs to keep people in this province safe.”

Manitoba also declared a state of emergency today, joining Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. The move gives provinces the power to enact measures like limiting public gatherings and closing non-essential businesses. Other provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I. Quebec and all three territories have declared public health emergencies, which, depending on their legislation, can give them similar powers to try to stop the transmission of COVID-19. As of Saturday morning, Canada had 1,087 confirmed and presumptive cases and 13 deaths.

While taking questions, Trudeau was asked whether Canadian athletes should attend the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in July. “The Canadian team will make their decision closer to the event,” he said. “Everything depends on the situation in Japan and around the world.”

At a press conference later in the day, a reporter got three answers to the same question. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam replied flatly, “Our recommendation is avoid all non-essential travel.” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland echoed Tam, saying: “Canadians should avoid all non-essential travel.” Minister of Health Patty Hajdu promptly followed Freeland, saying: “It’s very hard to predict what is going to happen globally and it’s important for Canadians to avoid non-essential travel.”

Meanwhile, the Olympic flame arrived in Japan Friday from Greece in a sparsely attended event. The International Olympic Committee and local organizers maintain the Tokyo Olympics will open on July 24, despite increasing pressure to postpone or cancel in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Canadian hockey star and six-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, who is studying to be a doctor, said the decision to continue with the Games was “insensitive and irresponsible.” She pointed out in a March 17 tweet that athletes can’t train because pools and sports facilities are closed, guests can’t travel and marketers can’t plan. “This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” she wrote. “We don’t know what’s happening in the next 24 hour let alone the next three months.”

On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said they were planning for many scenarios, but “cancellation is not on the agenda.”  —Tara Losinski

Thursday, March 19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday “extraordinary measures” designed to flatten the curve  of COVID-19 cases such as social distancing, business closures and travel restrictions could be in place for more than a few weeks.

“We’ve heard anything from weeks to months,” Trudeau said at the press conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, where he is in self-isolation. “We know this is a difficult and extraordinary time in which Canadians are taking difficult and extraordinary measures, and we will continue to do that until Canadians are safe.”

As for the Canada-U.S. border closure announced Wednesday, Trudeau said the two countries are still fine-tuning the agreement, but expects non-essential travellers like shoppers and tourists will be turned back from crossings by Saturday morning.

“My understanding is that the measures will probably come into place in the night between Friday and Saturday. So in about a day and a half.”

Throughout the press conference, Trudeau focused on measures previously announced, including financial support for parents and funding to help develop vaccines and treatments.

As part of a $1 billion fund he announced earlier this month, Trudeau said $25 million will directly support 49 researchers and their teams in an effort to help detect, manage and reduce the spread of the virus.

Trudeau also addressed the growing need for more testing kits and confirmed the Canadian government will expedite COVID-19 lab tests.

On Wednesday, Canada’s health minister signed an interim order to speed up access to COVID-19 test kits to help identify new cases of the novel coronavirus.

Health Canada said the order signed by Health Minister Patty Hajdu will help expedite the arrival of two new diagnostic tests to speed up testing in provincial labs.

“While we ramp up, we’re making sure Canada is ready to keep up,” Trudeau said.

Wednesday, March 18

The Public Health Agency of Canada said Wednesday almost 54,000 tests have been performed to date. Canada has more than 730 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Two days after exempting U.S. travellers from Canadian border closures in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Trudeau confirmed the two countries had mutually decided to close the border to non-essential traffic in both directions, but keep it open for commerce.

“I want to be clear, though, that essential travel will continue. Our governments recognize that it is critical that we preserve supply chains between both countries,” Trudeau said at the Wednesday press conference.

U.S. President Donald Trump disclosed the news on Twitter shortly before Trudeau’s announcement, following reports that the White House and the Canadian government were in talks to limit the cross-border spread of the virus without crippling vital lines of commerce.

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

At the press conference, Trudeau also announced a massive $82 billion aid package to help Canadians and businesses, which includes income supports, wage subsidies and tax deferrals.

“No matter who you are or what you do, this is a time where you should be focused on your health and that of your neighbours, not whether you’re going to lose your job, not whether you’re going to run out of money for things like groceries and medication,” Trudeau said. The extensive economic package includes $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion to help business liquidity through tax deferrals.

Trudeau also announced an emergency care benefit, which will provide financial support to those without paid sick leave or access to employment insurance (EI). People who qualify will receive the benefit for 14 weeks for an amount comparable to what they would have received from EI. The benefit applies to Canadians who fall ill, those in quarantine or self-isolation and those looking after family members with COVID-19.

An emergency support benefit was also announced for those who lose their job but don’t qualify for EI. “This will apply to people who are self-employed and have to close shop because of the virus,” Trudeau said.

He also announced a three-month wage subsidy for employers and small businesses covering 10 per cent of each worker’s salary. “This will encourage employers to keep staff on the payroll during these uncertain times,” Trudeau explained.

The Child Care Benefit will receive a temporary boost to assist parents dealing with “school closures and additional child-care responsibilities.”

Trudeau said there is a “real” desire among opposition political parties to help Canadians, and he is confident that the new measures will pass quickly in Parliament.

Other measures included:

  • Supplementing the GST credit up to $300 and $150 for every child for low-income Canadians
  • A six-month moratorium on Canada student loans
  • Doubling funding for the Reaching Home program that provides support for the homeless in communities across Canada
  • Boosting funding for domestic and gender-based violence shelters
  • Setting up Indigenous community support fund

Ontario Announces More Measures

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also announced new measures to encourage social isolation and financially support Ontarians affected by the coronavirus.

Ford said the province is suspending all renewals for driver’s licences, licence plate stickers and health cards. He also reassured Ontarians that expired and expiring health cards will continue to be accepted until further notice.

“These changes will help relieve the burden already faced by Ontarians and businesses by providing more time to renew their licences and permits without being penalized while also reducing the need for in-person visits,” Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said in a release.

Ford also announced that all eviction orders are suspended until further notice.

“We want to make sure you and your family can stay in your home at this difficult time, so you can put your health and the health of other first,” Ford said during a press conference on Thursday.

After discussions with the Retail Council of Canada and CEOs in the retail, grocery, hardware and pharmacy industries, Ford announced measures to alleviate the added pressure on Ontario’s supply chains from hoarding and panic buying.

He said municipal noise bylaws that prohibit deliveries during certain hours will be temporarily suspended “to allow deliveries 24 hours a day seven days a week.”

Once again, Ford urged Canadians to do their part in taking pressure off the supply chain.

“Please don’t hoard and don’t panic buy. If we all do our part, there should be plenty of supply for everyone,” he said.

“The last country in the world that should worry about toilet paper should be Canada. We have more pulp than pretty well any country. I’m begging the people, please do not hoard the toilet paper.”

Earlier on Thursday, Ontario’s second COVID-19-related death was reported by Halton Region Public Health.

The patient was in his 50s, and officials say he had an “underlying health condition.”

He was receiving care at an Oakville, Ont., hospital leading up to his death.

“This is the tragic proof that we need to work together as a community to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by practising social distancing and taking action to protect yourself and those around you,” Halton Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hamidah Meghani said in a news release. “This is a larger community issue and I know that everyone joins me in extending their deepest condolences to his family at this time.”

On Thursday morning, 43 cases of the virus were announced by provincial health officials, bringing the province’s total up to 257. – Andrew Wright 

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