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April 22, 2020 – Government updates on the COVID-19 pandemic

In the exceptional circumstances of the current health state of emergency, here is an update on recent decisions and actions by federal and provincial public authorities in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, announced a new $9-billion financial aid program for students, which includes the creation of 76,000 additional jobs this summer.

The premier of Québec, François Legault, asked the federal government to send 1,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces to lend a helping hand in residential and long-term care facilities (CHSLDs).

Mr. Legault announced that the gradual lifting of isolation measures for schools and businesses will be put in place in some regions starting next week. 

Support for students

The Canadian Emergency Student Benefit guarantees students $1,250 a month, from May to August, or $1,750 a month for students who have a disability or are caring for someone.

The benefit is available to anyone who is currently studying, who will be going to school in September or who obtained a degree after December 2019.

Young people who are employed, but earn $1,000 or less a month, will also be eligible for the benefit.

Mr. Trudeau announced the creation of the Canada Student Service Grant to help fight COVID-19. Depending on the number of hours they volunteer, eligible youth will receive $1,000 to $5,000.

Additional federal efforts include the creation of 76,000 summer jobs for youth in sectors related to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

$291 million for research

The Canadian government is investing $291 M to extend bursaries and subsidies for students and researchers so that they can pursue their work for an additional three to four months.

Québec and territorial authorities will receive corresponding sums to be added to their financial aid programs for students.

Reinforcement from army personnel

Premier Legault stated that he has had no choice but to request that 1,000 members of the army be sent to help out in CHSLDs even if they do not have medical training, because “we still need extra hands.”  Seniors’ residences continue to be the critical pandemic zone in Québec.

He said that despite his repeated appeals over the last few days, it has been impossible to find enough people within the networks who have medical training, whether it is students, nurses, general practitioners or medical specialists.

Montréal and Laval will have to wait

The Montréal and Laval regions have been the sites of 74% of all COVID-related deaths in Québec. The Québec government is planning to announce, next week, the gradual reopening of schools and businesses in regions where the situation is under control and minimally affected by the current pandemic.

“I want to reassure parents that the decision will be based, first and foremost, on public health. Children will not be obliged to go to school. And those who stay home will be eligible for catch-up programs in September,” Mr. Legault said

The plan will be approved by the national director of Public Heath, Dr. Horacio Arruda, who reiterated that it is unhealthy for a society to remain in isolation. Sustained isolation carries a greater risk of suicide, conjugal violence and psychological distress. 

The wearing of masks

Dr. Arruda explained that directives will soon be issued regarding the wearing of masks or face coverings in places where it is impossible to respect the recommended social distancing of two metres.

He reiterated that this protective measure is not a cure-all and that it must not replace social- distancing and hand-washing guidelines.

Resumption of non-urgent surgeries

The minister of Health and Social Services, Danielle McCann, announced that 40% of non-urgent surgical and imaging activities will resume in Québec’s hospitals.

All activities will be resumed in a new context where hospitals are now organized into two zones, one of which is sealed off to provide care for people infected with COVID-19.

Support for retirees

Prime Minister Trudeau also mentioned an aid plan for retirees, as suggested by the opposition parties, which will be announced in the next few days.

In terms of a more accurate picture of the living conditions of seniors in public and private residences across the country, Mr. Trudeau stated that, as a society, we must think long and hard about how to better care for the most vulnerable people, and the fact that they are cared for by people who themselves are economically vulnerable.

Border closed until May 21

Mr. Trudeau understands that some provinces, including Québec, will institute measures to lift social isolation measures but that these procedures will all have to be coordinated while adhering to Public Health directives in order to avoid a resurgence or a second wave of the pandemic.

The border with the United States will remain closed until May 21, as was recently announced.

Cultural and sports gatherings

Premier Legault stated that it is reasonable to assume that activities involving large gatherings, whether for cultural or sports events, will not resume before 2021.