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Canada’s House of Commons suspending for 5 weeks as officials battle coronavirus spread

Parliament to shutter for 5 weeks to limit COVID-19 spread
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was expected to make a statement this afternoon on the coronavirus pandemic. This comes as he has been self-isolated after his wife Sophie Gregoire tested positive for COVID-19. Kamil Karamali has more on this and other pandemic developments.

The House of Commons is shutting down for five weeks and the federal budget date is being postponed indefinitely in a bid to tackle the growing spread of the new coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.

Officials from the political parties have been in discussions over recent days about whether the House of Commons should return from its scheduled break next week, and on Friday, Conservative House Leader Mark Strahl and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said all parties had reached an agreement to suspend.

Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez spoke after all of the opposition parties had voiced their agreement for the motion to adjourn.

He said the House of Commons will be adjourned until April 20.

READ MORE: Trudeau says feds likely to urge against international travel over coronavirus fears

The decision comes as public health officials around the world grapple with the spread of the new virus, which has infected more than 135,000 people worldwide and killed 4,981.

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In Canada, there are 138 confirmed cases and one death.

Among those infected is Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau is in isolation for the next 14 days and working from home as a result.

Coronavirus outbreak: Canada’s House of Commons suspending for 5 weeks
Coronavirus outbreak: Canada’s House of Commons suspending for 5 weeks

Two other cabinet ministers — Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan and Mary Ng, small business and international trade minister — are also in self-isolation after attending a mining conference in Toronto two weeks ago where an attendee was later diagnosed with the virus.

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READ MORE: Montreal Liberal MP in self-isolation after attending event with coronavirus patient

Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather is also in isolation as a precaution after he attended a conference in Washington, D.C., earlier in the month where several people tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is in isolation as well as a precaution but says health officials do not believe his symptoms are those of coronavirus.

READ MORE: Minister of Natural Resources in self-isolation as ‘precaution’ while awaiting COVID-19 results

Strahl said the parties held “extensive” meetings on Thursday about how to handle the situation and decided that it was in the best interests of everyone to agree to adjourn. He said, though, that his party will continue pushing for more clarity on what is being done to address the outbreak.

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“We have said we want to see the plan for additional screening measures, for things like health supplies. We will continue to press for those answers,” Strahl said.

“We’re working together as best we can.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec lays out new measures to stop spread of COVID-19
Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec lays out new measures to stop spread of COVID-19

As part of the agreement reached between all of the parties, Rodriguez said the bill to ratify the new NAFTA agreement has also been adopted at third reading.

That means the bill’s journey through the House of Commons is now complete, and it is now in the hands of the Senate.

While the House of Commons will not sit for another five weeks, only two of those lost weeks were scheduled as sitting weeks.

What’s cancelled or postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic?
What’s cancelled or postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic?

The other three were allotted as break weeks for MPs to be back working in their constituencies.

Rodriguez also said the motion cancels the date of the budget, which was set to be tabled on March 30.

“There are two other things included in this motion. It removes the date that was set aside for the tabling of the budget, which means it could be tabled at another day,” he said. “The other thing it does is it allows for Parliament to be recalled in order to adopt measures related to employment insurance.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Elizabeth May says parliamentarians cannot become vectors for COVID-19
Coronavirus outbreak: Elizabeth May says parliamentarians cannot become vectors for COVID-19

It is also possible the suspension could last beyond April 20, he added.

There is no date set for when the budget will be tabled instead.

Rodriguez said the budget must be tabled in the House of Commons and so will not be presented until MPs return.

He also added that a directive would be going out to MPs advising them not to go to the kinds of big events they would normally attend in their ridings during break weeks.

“These are not normal times,” said Rodriguez. “We’re talking about 338 people who leave this place to go shake hands with thousands of people. And then they come back to this place … we’re asking MPs not to do what they normally do and go meet people at big events.”

More to come.