Politics

Trudeau says government will do 'everything necessary' to protect Canadians from COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the risk of COVID-19 to Canadians remains low, but the federal government will ensure provincial and territorial health authorities have the resources to respond to a potential outbreak.

PM says he'll ensure provincial health authorities have resources to keep people safe

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes a funding announcement as he visits Common Good Solutions in Halifax on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Trudeau also spoke about the risk of COVID-19 in Canada, which he said remains low. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the risk of COVID-19 to Canadians remains low, but the federal government will ensure provincial and territorial health authorities have adequate resources to respond to a potential outbreak.

Speaking to reporters after an event on Tuesday in Halifax, Trudeau said Canada is following the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) on "best paths" to respond to the global spread of the respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus. He said the virus presents a "real challenge" to health care systems around the world.

"We have full confidence that provincial health authorities will be able to deliver health care services as they are constitutionally mandated to do," he said.

"But we will, of course, look to ensure there are the resources necessary to keep Canadians safe. This is a moment of real challenge for Canadians, indeed for the world, and we're all going to be working together to make sure that the impacts are minimized on Canadians."

Trudeau said he can reassure Canadians that the risk remains low here, but the government continues to monitor "very closely and carefully" developments around the world and make decisions based on science and expert recommendations.

"We will continue to do everything necessary to keep Canadians safe," he said.

There are now 33 cases of COVID-19 in Canada; 20 in Ontario, 12 in British Columbia and one in Quebec.

Trudeau said Canada is also co-ordinating with international partners to mitigate the impact on the global economy. He noted that Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs could take a hit.

"We will always look for ways to minimize that impact and perhaps give help where help is needed," he said.

CBC Radio-Canada is reporting that the Trudeau government has created a new cabinet subcommittee tasked with centralizing the government's management of the coronavirus response.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu will be on the committee; the government has not said who the other members of the committee will be. The committee will meet for the first time Wednesday.

G7 ministers discuss impact

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his G7 counterparts wrapped up a conference call Tuesday vowing to use every fiscal tool necessary to limit the economic harm of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus that is spreading around the globe.

After that meeting, Morneau said on CBC News Network's Power & Politics that the government is considering various options to mitigate the impact of the virus, including extending Employment Insurance benefits and compensating businesses for lost revenue.

"We're going to be prepared to deal with this in any way that can support people if they find themselves in a vulnerable situation, and can support businesses if they find themselves in a situation where they can't keep their businesses going because of changes either in the supply opportunities or potentially in their demand," he told host Vassy Kapelos.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the finance ministers and central bank governors said they are closely monitoring the impact of the virus on markets and economic conditions.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau held a teleconference with his G7 counterparts Tuesday to discuss ways to limit economic harm from COVID-19. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"Given the potential impacts of COVID-19 on global growth, we reaffirm our commitment to use all appropriate policy tools to achieve strong, sustainable growth and safeguard against downside risks," the statement reads.

"Alongside strengthening efforts to expand health services, G7 finance ministers are ready to take actions, including fiscal measures where appropriate, to aid in the response to the virus and support the economy during this phase. G7 central banks will continue to fulfil their mandates, thus supporting price stability and economic growth while maintaining the resilience of the financial system."

The statement said the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other international financial institutions are prepared to help member countries address the "human tragedy and economic challenge" posed by COVID-19. 

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell led Tuesday's call.

Morneau's spokesperson Maéva Proteau said Monday that Canada's economy continues to be resilient, despite evolving global and domestic challenges.

"We are closely monitoring economic developments related to the COVID-19 outbreak and other issues such as the rail blockades, including the impacts on businesses, tourism and the energy sector," she said in an email statement.

"As the situation is still very dynamic, it is too early to say exactly what the economic impacts will be. Our government's strong fiscal position means we continue to have all the necessary tools to respond in cases of continued fluctuations in the domestic and global markets. Minister Morneau is in regular discussions with our international partners on this matter."

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