November 12, 2020 – Provincial government update on the COVID-19 pandemic
Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the Québec government in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Difficult weeks to come
As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic reaches greater heights day by day around the world, Québec Premier François Legault is warning that the coming weeks will be “critical” for Quebecers.
The premier admitted that the second global wave is “very, very powerful” based on the numbers coming out of Europe and the United States, particularly the northeastern United States.
The number of cases and hospitalizations is increasing exponentially. “In France, the situation is even more dramatic. Yesterday, there were 32,000 people in hospital due to COVID-19. In Québec, this would mean 4,000 people in hospital instead of the current 500. That’s eight times more hospitalizations than here. Our health network can’t handle that,” said Mr. Legault.
The premier finds the situation worrisome and agonizing, and the are no guarantees as to what things will look like in Québec in a week or two. The premier’s call was clear: the population must follow the health rules.
Deteriorating situation in the schools
Outbreaks of the virus are mostly occurring in workplaces and schools, but the situation is rapidly deteriorating in schools, where in only two days, some 324 classrooms were closed, bringing the total to 1,174.
The situation is worrisome, said Mr. Legault, who nevertheless restated his desire to keep schools open in order to offer children a more normal life and education, despite the exceptional circumstances.
With the Holidays approaching, the premier confirmed that the government is assessing the possibility of extending the school break in an effort to prevent outbreaks when students return to the classroom.
With regard to the recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) to divide classes in two, Mr. Legault responded that in theory that looks great, but in practice that would require two times more classrooms and teaching staff, which is neither foreseeable nor possible in Québec.
Relaxing the rules for the Holidays
While current measures are being maintained due to the maximum alert (red zone), the government is contemplating relaxing the restrictions around gatherings of family and friends during the Holidays.
“There won’t be any big gatherings,” said Mr. Legault, but based on what is going on in other countries, it might be possible to permit gatherings of two families and some friends.
No decision has been made. It will depend on the state of the pandemic in the next few weeks.
The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, specified that the goal is to allow for “an adapted and healthy family Christmas.”
Less critical situation in CHSLDs
While the number of cases remains stable, as does the number of hospitalizations, for the last six weeks, the number of deaths has increased significantly over the last few days, which is of concern to the premier.
Mr. Legault stated that in the spring, there was an average of 128 deaths over seven days, of which 89 were in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs), while last week, there were 23 deaths, of which 11 were in seniors’ residences.
“We’re not at all in the situation we were in last spring,” said the premier.
Deficit and stimulus plan
For the first time since the pandemic, Minister of Finance Éric Girard presented a portrait of the economic and financial situation in Québec, confirming an anticipated deficit of $15 billion and a stimulus plan of $1.5 billion.
Exceptionally, due to the period of uncertainty caused by the global pandemic, which has led to the greatest global economic recession since the Second World War, the financial framework will extend over three years instead of five. The minister is forecasting a deficit of $8.3 billion next year and $7 billion the following year.
Own-source revenue plummeted by $3 billion (-3.6%) compared with last year, while federal transfers increased by 20% with Ottawa’s financial assistance for the pandemic. Consequently, revenue increased overall by 1.5%, but spending increased by 13.1% due, in particular, to the measures taken in the health sector in terms of wages and equipment purchases. Real GDP will drop by 6% this year and will increase by 5% next year, according to government projections.
Labour training and targeted stimulus
While 97% of jobs have been recovered since the national lockdown in the spring, Québec will inject $459 M in labour training to reskill people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Some $477 M will be injected to “stimulate economic growth,” said Minister of Finance Éric Girard, while $300 M will be added to the plan for a green economy, bringing the plan’s budget to $6.7 billion. This will be unveiled shortly by the minister of the Environment.
A sum of $247 million will be earmarked over three years for Québec production and local purchasing. Some $50 million will serve to reinvigorate city centres and $60 million will be allocated for the tourism industry.