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July 16, 2020 – Federal and provincial government updates on the COVID-19 pandemic

Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the Canadian and Québec governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

$19.5-billion agreement between Canada and the provinces

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed a $19.5-billion agreement with the provinces and territories to securely relaunch the economy and prepare for a possible second wave of COVID-19.

Seven priority areas of intervention were identified for the use of these funds: screening, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, cities and public transit services, childcare services, paid sick leave and support for the most vulnerable Canadians, including those living in seniors’ centres such as CHSLDs.

The previous proposal was $14 billion to be shared among the provinces and territories.

Extended closure of the Canada-U.S. border

Prime Minister Trudeau confirmed that the closure of the border with United States will be extended until August 21.

Since March 21, all non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S. has been banned.

Studying the possibility of closing bars

Premier François Legault confirmed that he is waiting for directives from Public Health to determine the guidelines that will be implemented for bars, considered highly conducive to the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m concerned about the situation in bars,” said Mr. Legault, despite the fact, he added, that the operating rules in these establishments were tightened to limit the spread.

The director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, stressed that Public Health officials in each region of Quebec are analyzing the current data.

“We’re conducting a detailed assessment of the risks and no scenario has been ruled out, including completely shutting down bars in Quebec, or in the Greater Montreal area, or closing bars that are not respecting the rules. […] I’m asking bar owners and patrons to cooperate if they want these establishments to remain open,” he said.

14,000 tests by the end of the month

Dr. Arruda responded to Premier Legault’s plea to correct the situation regarding the inadequate number of COVID-19 screening tests being conducted.

Dr. Arruda explained that a new deputy minister has been appointed who will be responsible for ensuring that the measures deployed are effective, allowing the province to attain 14,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

Regional air service

Premier Legault promised that the Quebec government will financially support a new service offer for regional flights within the province on a permanent basis since this is a problem that has existed for many years.

The economic impact of the pandemic has prompted Air Canada’s senior management to cancel over 30 regional connections in Canada, including nine in Quebec. “We have to fix (this problem) once and for all,” said Mr. Legault.

He indicated that the government is currently in negotiations with many players, whether it is Air Canada, a new cooperative or a public enterprise, to find a permanent solution that will guarantee frequency and reasonable fares for service throughout the year.

Masks made mandatory

In the face of various protest movements mobilizing on social media and in various regions against the mandatory use of masks, Dr. Arruda explained that this must become a new “social norm.”

Dr. Arruda reiterated his plea: “Wear a mask to protect others and others will wear one to protect you. It’s also a reminder that the virus is still among us. It’s a shame that we have to make it mandatory.”

Dr. Arruda stressed that the decision to make masks mandatory is necessary in order to avoid forcing businesses to close again or returning the population to lockdown.