The federal government rolled out a $1-billion package on March 11 to help the country’s health-care system and economy cope with the novel coronavirus outbreak as the number of cases in Canada grew, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned that the situation could get worse, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
With more than 118,000 people sick around the world, including more than 100 in Canada, the WHO called on countries to mitigate the social and economic impacts while minimizing the disruption to everyday life.
Trudeau said Canada’s government is considering more measures to contain COVID-19, such as what to do with incoming cruise ships, on which the disease has been known to spread, while warning cases could climb.
He demurred on when the government would opt for stricter measures like community-wide lockdowns, such as those in China and Italy.
“It’s not about time. It’s about the situation and the facts on the ground. We will closely monitor what is needed to be done to keep Canadians safe,” Trudeau said in a prepared statement.
“While we are prepared for a wide range of scenarios, we will focus right now on what needs to be done now and endeavour to make sure that is enough, that we don’t have to take future steps.”
In Washington, President Donald Trump said the U.S. will suspend all travel from Europe, excluding the U.K., starting March 13 for 30 days.
The outbreak has caused an upheaval in the Canadian economy, the cancellation of major conferences and events like the World Figure Skating Championships that were scheduled for next week in Montreal, changes in travel plans and workplace travel bans like those now imposed on parliamentary groups.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said the risk to the general population is low and most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience manageable symptoms like a fever or cough. For some, such as seniors and those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions, the illness can be more severe.
Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, fewer than 15% have required hospitalization.
Individual behaviour – like washing hands and coughing into the crook of an elbow – can slow the spread of the infection.
Still, the government has been preparing its response for the pandemic.
Half of the $1-billion spending package will go to help provinces and territories prepare and react, and pay for protective gear like masks and gowns for health workers. Ontario’s government added $100 million for its response Wednesday, which could be used to hire more staff in the province.
A smaller portion of the spending eases access to federal benefits for workers whose livelihoods are disrupted by COVID-19, aiming to make it easier for people with more precarious jobs to stay home, avoid infecting others, and get income supports quickly.
Federal officials are eyeing ways to help those who don’t qualify for employment insurance receive benefits, possibly providing grants as was done during the SARS outbreak in 2003.News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2020