Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the support package in a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, saying the federal funding aims to help provincial health-care systems cope with the increasing number of new coronavirus cases and to help Canadian workers who are forced to isolate themselves.
“The reality is that the number of people affected by the virus around the globe keeps climbing. Canada has been fortunate so far … I know that people across the country are worried,” Trudeau said.
“We’re pulling out all the stops to make sure Canadians are safe and protected.”
The plan includes $500 million for the provinces and territories, including money for things like buying medical gear such as face masks.
That also includes money for public education, surveillance and monitoring, and access to testing.
Another $275 million will go to medical research, including funding for a finding a vaccine and launching clinical trials.
That’s on top of the $27 million in research funding announced earlier in the week.
As part of the program, the one-week waiting period to apply for employment insurance will be waived.
It will also adjust the rules in the Service Canada work-sharing program, which Trudeau said aims to help companies deal with employees who have to stay home.
There will also be $50 million in international aid to help other countries fight the spread of the virus.
Trudeau was asked by reporters what safeguards would be put in place to ensure people do not abuse the program.
He did not give a clear answer.
“We have confidence in Canadians. We know that what is extremely important right now is every Canadian does their part to arrest the rate of this virus,” he said.
“We need to make sure everyone is given the tools they need.”
Business and labour groups have called on the federal government to loosen restrictions on employment insurance payments for people who are off work due to illness, arguing that would also make it easier for people with more precarious jobs to stay home and avoid infecting others.
There are few confirmed instances of community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 in Canada, but the number of cases continues to grow.
As of March 10, there have been 93 confirmed cases of the illness in Canada.
The first death in Canada as a result of the new coronavirus was announced on Monday.
That individual had been living at a care home in B.C.
Trudeau said the most important factor in how the virus spreads comes down to the behaviour of Canadians, adding that things like increased handwashing, social distancing and staying home from work when sick will be the biggest determinants in how it spreads going forward.
“We have been able to restrict the spread of the virus in Canada over the last few weeks because we had the appropriate measures in place,” he said, before being asked what further measures he could consider if the situation gets worse.
“We’re not closing the door to any decisions at this point, but any decision we make will be based on the recommendations of experts and the best scientific evidence that we have.”
The announcement comes on the heels of the decision by two members of the Liberal caucus to self-isolate after coming into contact with two separate individuals at two separate conferences who both tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said on Monday he was in self-isolation after attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, D.C., earlier in the month. Two people who attended that conference, including one person from Toronto, have tested positive for COVID-19.
Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan is also in self-isolation due to what he called a “persistent” head cold.
He said he has taken a test for the new coronavirus and is waiting to hear the results.
O’Regan said on Tuesday evening that he wasn’t aware of coming into contact with anyone who has the virus.
But on Wednesday morning, attendees who took part in a global mining industry conference in Toronto last week were advised to monitor themselves for symptoms after a man from the Sudbury area who attended that conference tested positive.
Both O’Regan and Trudeau were at the conference.
Trudeau was asked about that on Wednesday and about whether he is changing his own behaviour to reduce the risk.
“I haven’t had a test,” he said. “I am following Dr. Tam’s recommendations in order to keep myself safe and my family as well.”
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said everyone who was there is being monitored.
Anyone who develops even small symptoms should stay home and call a doctor or local health agency immediately, she said.
More to come.