Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is preparing a significant fiscal stimulus package in the coming days to help Canadians and businesses hit hardest by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“We do not want any Canadian to have to worry about whether or not they’re going to be able to pay their rent, whether or not they’re going to be able to buy groceries, or care for their kids or elderly family members,” Trudeau told reporters. “We need to make sure that Canadians have the options and the ability to follow the best public health advice and keep themselves safe.”
Trudeau addressed the nation today from outside Rideau Cottage where he is in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, tested positive for the coronavirus.
His announcement sought to quell uncertainty around the growing number of cases in Canada, now more than 150, which has led to school closures, the suspension or cancellation of major sporting events, and other large public gatherings.
The prime minister said the economic aid package would be going to help the most vulnerable citizens “getting squeezed” by not going into work.
“We also know small businesses may struggle through this period of economic slowdown,” he said. “We are in the enviable position of having significant fiscal firepower available to support you.”
Reuters reported that the total value of an aid package could be up to C$20 billion across the country.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Friday afternoon that $10 billion would be available through the Business Development Bank of Canada and further details on the “significant stimulus package” would be unveiled next week, ahead of the March 30 federal budget.
“These are extraordinary times and that means we are ready to take extraordinary measures,” Morneau said. “I understand that some of you watching today are worried about your families.”
Morneau said most of the $10 billion would go to “small and medium-sized enterprises.”
“What we’re looking at for next week is ensuring that we can give comfort to Canadians during a time when they might not have the same funds they would normally have,” he said.
Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz said Canada is cutting its overnight rate target by half a percentage point to 0.75 per cent in response to COVID-19.
“Lower interest rates will help to support confidence in businesses and households,” Poloz said during the press conference with Morneau. “The main fundamental that has changed since our last decision is that oil prices have continued to move lower and are showing signs of persisting.”
The stimulus package announced Friday is in addition to the $1.1 billion announced earlier this week to fight and mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Morneau said he would now be holding weekly conference calls with his provincial counterparts.
“The reality of this virus means that everybody needs to take the necessary precautions,” he said. “While what we are experiencing is a health crisis, given its breadth across the globe it also has economic consequences.”
Trudeau also reassured Canadians that he has no symptoms and is “feeling good” but will remain in self-isolation for the next 14 days, alongside his family and will continue to work from home.
He urged Canadians to follow the advice of public health officials in an effort to stem the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
“Sophie’s symptoms remain mild and we are taking every medical precaution,” he said. “We are thinking about all the families across the country who have received similar news.”
He said has not been examined for COVID-19 based on the advice of health care experts after his wife tested positive for the virus.
“It was explained to me that as long as I do not show any symptoms at all, there is no value to me being tested,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister will be speaking with premiers and Indigenous leaders later this afternoon about how to best move forward.
“Addressing COVID-19 must be a Team Canada effort. To keep Canadians safe and to mitigate the economic impacts of the virus, all levels of government are working together,” Trudeau said.
The federal government is also asking Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside of the country and is planning enhanced screening measures at airports. Trudeau did not say whether Canada would be suspending flights from Europe as President Donald Trump did earlier this, but noted Ottawa is co-ordinating closely with the U.S.
“There are recommendations not to travel outside of Canada. We’re in the midst of co-ordinating with the Americans, obviously, on our borders, on our actions,” Trudeau said. “We’ll continue to evaluate what we can do and how we can keep Canadians in security and we won’t close the door on any idea.”
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Transport Minister Marc Garneau held a press conference earlier Friday to update Canada’s response to the novel coronavirus.
Hajdu said that Canada is in a “critical window of opportunity” to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Garneau said that cruise ships or ferries carrying more than 500 people will not be allowed to dock in Canada until July 1, when the restriction will be revisited.
Tam said Friday that there are now 157 cases of the virus in Canada and that the time has come for Canadians as well as event organizers to cancel their plans and limit their social interactions.
“My advice is to postpone or cancel all non-essential travel outside of Canada. This means reconsidering your vacations,” Tam said. “By making the choice to stay at home and not travel outside of Canada, you are protecting yourself, your family and doing your part to slow the spread of the virus.”
Meanwhile, the House of Commons has agreed to suspend its sitting until April 20, shutting down parliamentary business in an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on Parliament Hill.
*With files from James Armstrong
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