Politics

PM says closures, social distancing measures could be in place for weeks or months

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered more assurances today that the government would help all Canadians through the COVID-19 crisis — but warned that "extraordinary" measures to contain the virus could be in place for weeks or months.

COVID-19 emergency funds will be flowing in 2 to 3 weeks, government promises

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau steps out of Rideau Cottage as he makes his way to a news conference about the COVID-19 virus in Ottawa, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered more assurances today that the government would help all Canadians through the COVID-19 crisis — but warned that "extraordinary" measures to contain the virus could be in place for weeks or months.

Speaking from his residence at Rideau Cottage where he remains in self-isolation, Trudeau urged everyone who can to donate blood. He said the government is preparing for a variety of scenarios in terms of how the health emergency could unfold in Canada.

He said the unprecedented measures in place now — such as travel restrictions, social distancing protocols and business closures — could continue for some time as political leaders follow the advice of medical experts.

"We've heard anything from weeks to months," he said.

"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."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered more assurances Thursday that the government would help all Canadians through the COVID-19 crisis — but warned that "extraordinary" measures to contain the virus could be in place for weeks or months. 20:29

Trudeau also said supports will be on the way for retirees who have seen a dramatic drop in their savings due to "massive" market disruptions.

"We will be taking measures to ease the impact of that," he said.

"We know that our seniors have worked hard all their lives to be able to retire in comfort and there is a lot of anxiety there. That's why we will be there for our seniors as well."

Elderly people and people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms if they become infected.

During a news conference in Ottawa Thursday, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam warned that Indigenous people are also in the high-risk group.

"We must recognize that First Nations, Inuit and Metis are at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 given health inequities, higher rates of underlying medical conditions and unique health challenges such as those faced by remote and fly-in, fly-out communities," she said.

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer says it will be clearer over the next two weeks how well Canadians social distancing practices help in limiting the spread of COVID-19. 1:40

There are now 803 COVID-19 cases in Canada and 10 related deaths. Tam said the number of cases is expected to climb and it could take weeks before officials can determine the impact of mitigation measures such as social distancing and social isolation.

To date, Tam said, there has been no evidence of substantial community transmission — but that could change.

"I don't want people to be complacent because I do think that with this trajectory and the increasing in numbers, we have some degree of community transmission. But anything that's more widespread, any severe spectrum, we will detect it Canada," she said. "That much we know."

Tam has warned Canadians that there could be a second wave of infections. The goal now, she said, is to slow the rate of transmission to avoid a sudden spike in cases that could overload the health care system.

Asylum-seekers must isolate

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said today that all asylum-seekers crossing into Canada at Roxham Road in Quebec will now be required to go under quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and that the federal government will supply a place for them to stay.

"We are going to find a place where that can happen," she said.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the challenge facing the federal government is not to find the money to pay for the pandemic measures, but rather to mobilize enough research capacity to find a vaccine and ensure people follow best practices to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"I think it's important for Canadians to know that money will not be a barrier, but what we are relying on is really the collective actions in a time where there is so much uncertainty," she said.

"We need Canadians to take action, we need our research community to take action, we need our political system to take action. And we need to do that together."

"We will spend whatever it takes to support the health and safety of Canadians," Freeland said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday that asylum-seekers who cross the border at Roxham road will be required to self-isolate for 14 days and the government will provide them a place to stay. 1:04

Earlier Thursday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Canadians worried about having enough money to pay for food, rent and medication can expect emergency funds in two to three weeks.

In an interview with CBC News Network, Morneau said the government understands the urgency of the situation and is leveraging existing government social services to get money out the door.

The government has waived the one-week wait for employment insurance sickness benefits and announced a series of new measures Wednesday to help Canadians and businesses taking a financial hit from the pandemic.

Funds to flow in weeks

"One of them, very clearly, is setting up this new approach for people that are not in the employment insurance system. And that, we expect, will be able to have money to people in the two to three-week time period," Morneau said.

"If we could find a way to sit down at a desk and write cheques today, we would. This is the fastest way we can determine how to get money out to people."

Morneau said the government is working hour-by-hour to find ways to release funds more rapidly. He said Parliament could be recalled this weekend or early next week to pass the legislation required to distribute the money.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Health Minister Patty Hajdu say the government will spend whatever it takes to support the health of Canadians. 2:54

Wednesday's $82-billion emergency response package includes $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion in tax deferrals.

The supports aim to help Canadians pay for rent and groceries, to help businesses continue to meet payroll and pay bills, and to stabilize the economy.

The emergency aid plan includes:

  • A temporary boost to Canada Child Benefit payments, delivering about $2 billion in extra support.
  • A new Emergency Care Benefit of up to $900 biweekly, up to 15 weeks, to provide income support to workers, including the self-employed, who have to stay home and don't qualify for paid sick leave or employment insurance. The measure could disburse up to $10 billion.
  • A new Emergency Support Benefit to provide up to $5 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.  
  • A six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments.
  • Doubling the homeless care program. 
  • Extending the tax filing deadline to June 1.
  • Allowing taxpayers to defer until after Aug. 31 tax payments that are due after today and before September.
  • $305 million for a new Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities.

Other measures include a GST credit for low-income Canadians and special support for the homeless and shelters helping people escaping gender-based violence.

Morneau said the government is also working with the private sector to find ways to help Canadians. Banks, for example, could be flexible with mortgage and loan payments to help people who are struggling financially.

He said there is no way to know how the pandemic will affect the economy at this stage, or how long those effects will last, but he is confident the crisis is temporary. Canada is well-positioned to deal with the challenge due to a talented workforce, a strong health-care system and a government with the capacity to financially support Canadians and businesses, he said.

"This is going to be all hands on deck for a long time until we get through this," he said.

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