Politics

Go home and stay home, Trudeau tells Canadians as government warns of COVID-19 enforcement measures

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pleading with Canadians to follow public health guidelines on COVID-19, warning that stiff enforcement measures could be imposed if people don't stop engaging in behaviour that puts lives at risk.

Random inspections, hotlines could be on the way to enforce rules to limit spread of virus

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is speaking with premiers later today to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pleading with Canadians to follow public health guidelines on COVID-19, warning that stiff enforcement measures could be imposed if people don't stop engaging in behaviour that puts lives at risk.

As images emerged over the weekend of people gathering in groups at beaches and parks, and for parties, Trudeau said individuals taking part in such "extremely concerning" activities are putting not only themselves at risk but also health care workers, the elderly and other vulnerable people.

"We've all seen the pictures online of people who seem to think they're invincible. Well, you're not," he said.

"Enough is enough. Go home and stay home. This is what we all need to be doing, and we're going to make sure this happens, whether by educating people more on the risks, or by enforcing the rules, if that's needed. Nothing that could help is off the table."

In his strongest language yet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warns Canadians to follow social distancing measures and says the government will enforce the rules, if required. 3:18

Trudeau said the government has not ruled out any enforcement options. He's expected to speak with the premiers later today to discuss steps going forward.

Trudeau urged Canadians to follow the recommendations of public health officials, who are asking Canadians to practise frequent handwashing and social distancing, stay home whenever possible, avoid non-essential travel and self-isolate in cases where there has been a risk of exposure to the virus.

"We have to trust them and we have to listen," Trudeau said.

Trudeau's remarks come as the federal government launches a $30-million advertising campaign to raise awareness about measures to stop the spread of infection.

The ads, featuring Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, will run for the rest of March and at least through April on all Canadian television networks and radio stations across the country, as well as in national, regional and local print outlets.

In the ads, Tam warns that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a "serious public health threat" and reminds Canadians of the importance of the measures to help delay the spread of COVID-19. By slowing the rate of new infections, officials hope to lessen the burden on the health care system.

There are now more than 1,550 confirmed cases, and at least 20 deaths, in Canada.

Speaking outside his residence at Rideau Cottage, Trudeau said there will be a $5-billion credit program to support farmers. He also announced $192 million in new funding for the development and production of vaccines to stop the spread of the virus.

Trudeau remains in self-isolation because of his wife Sophie's positive test for COVID-19. 

Some provinces recommending isolation for domestic travellers

Every province and territory has now declared either a state of emergency or a public health emergency, but to date the federal government has not invoked the Emergencies Act, which would give it special powers to enforce quarantines and limit movement.

Some provinces have adopted their own rules, which include mandatory self-isolation upon arrival from another province.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu also implored Canadians to take the recommendations of public health officials seriously. She warned that new measures could be imposed, such as a public hotline for reporting people who violate public health instructions.

"There are a number of ways that quarantine orders can be enforced and those could include random inspections, those could include hotlines," she said.

"There are a number of different kinds of ways that these kinds of things can be enforced and we are looking at a variety of measures should we take that step."

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says there are a number of ways quarantine measures can be enforced by the government, including random inspections and hotlines. 2:01

Some cities are imposing or considering fines for breaking rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At a virtual council meeting Monday, Vancouver city council unanimously passed a motion allowing the city to fine businesses up to $50,000 and individuals up to $1,000 for breaking public health rules while the city is in a state of emergency.

Hajdu said Sunday the government is also considering the option of imposing financial or criminal penalties on Canadian travellers who don't follow the government's advice.

The Quarantine Act, which was updated in 2005 after the deadly SARS outbreak, gives the federal health minister the power to designate quarantine zones and fine or jail travellers who disobey quarantine requests.

If a designated quarantine officer believes that a traveller has refused to isolate themselves, they can ask a peace officer to arrest the traveller and bring them into quarantine.

Mental health concerns

Hajdu, meanwhile, acknowledged that social distancing measures could have a severe impact on mental health. She said the government is developing a new app for people to download to support their mental health needs.

Hajdu also warned of an elevated risk of domestic violence and child abuse when families are cooped up in close quarters and worried about money and the future.

"These are real and live issues that we haven't forgotten about," she said.

The House of Commons will reconvene Tuesday to adopt emergency measures announced earlier this week by the federal government to help Canadians and businesses hit financially by the health crisis.

Trudeau announced a massive $82-billion aid package that includes $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion to help business liquidity through tax deferrals.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Monday that more should be done to help struggling Canadians; he suggested a payment of $2,000 per person plus $250 per child for immediate assistance. He also proposed a wage subsidy of 75 per cent so employers can keep staff on the payroll.

"These are two measures that are bold, but respond to the seriousness of the situation that we're up against. So we need to immediately give Canadians help and we need to ensure that people are not losing their jobs," he said.

Trudeau spoke today with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and is also expected to talk to Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

As COVID-19 cases mount around the world, the committees responsible for Canada's involvement in Olympic and Paralympic sport have decided they won't be sending athletes to Tokyo if the 2020 Summer Olympics go ahead as planned.

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