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April 23, 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 the federal and provincial governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, accepted the Québec government’s request to send soldiers to lend a helping hand in residential and long-term care facilities (CHSLDs) and announced $1.1 billion in aid for research and development for a vaccine and a cure for COVID-19.

The premier of Québec, François Legault, announced that the situation continues to deteriorate in CHSLDs, but that we must not lose hope. More than 9,500 people in the health sector are absent from work right now, including in hospitals.

“We need extra hands”

Premier Legault pointed to the urgency of the situation to justify asking for military intervention in CHSLDs because, each day, there is a growing number of people in the health sector who are absent from work.

“Just yesterday, another 800 people were absent from work,” the premier said. “They are either infected, sick, on preventive leave or in quarantine.”

The federal government is currently assessing Québec’s request for 1,000 soldiers.

Temporary measure in CHSLDs

In a solemn tone, Mr. Trudeau stated that in a country like Canada, soldiers should not be taking care of seniors. “We need to do better. Because we’re letting down our parents, our grandparents, our elders, the very people who built our country. We must look after them the way they deserve to be looked after.”

The Canadian prime minister described the situation as a “terrible tragedy” and “unacceptable,” and stated that we will have to take a hard “look at how we got here.”

Mr. Legault noted that the same situation for seniors is being observed in other major cities and industrialized countries. He thinks that “now is not the time to be looking for guilty parties. We need to pull together, not give up, and roll up our sleeves to help the most vulnerable. We owe them that,” he said.

The race for a vaccine and a cure

The Canadian government has created a task force to develop a vaccine and a cure for COVID-19, with $1.1 billion in funding.

The research plan has three components:

  • research into vaccines and treatments ($115 M)
  • clinical trials to validate results ($662 M)
  • development of a test to model the progression of the disease ($350 M)

“The research findings will help us do several things, whether it’s finding a vaccine or identifying more effective public health measures,” said Mr. Trudeau.

Return to a normal life

Prime Minister Trudeau stated that efforts to ease isolation measures are essential if we are to return to a normal life.

The population must be tested to determine the level of herd immunity. Following the opinion of health experts, Canada will work with the provinces to coordinate the principles and measures for easing isolation, based on the spread of the virus in the different contexts of each region in Canada.

Gradual reopening

Premier Legault stated that the reopening of schools and businesses, authorized gradually and region by region, will be announced next week.

“We’re going to present a schedule for the coming weeks,” the premier said. Monitoring the spread while gradual easing isolation measures will make it possible to assess the effects and determine whether these measures should continue or be clawed back.

Concept of natural immunity

The premier of Québec explained the concept of natural immunity of the population in order to stress the importance of a gradual and measured resumption of activities given that COVID-19 is a very powerful virus.

Its contagion factor is double or quadruple, per person. The weaker contagion factor of two means each infected person infects two others, and so on. In other words, contagion is exponential. It moves from 2, to 4, to 8, to 16, to 32, and so on. This dynamic must be reduced to 1 for 1. This would greatly slow contagion, which would in turn reduce the pressure on the healthcare system.

The gradual reopening of schools and businesses would promote the creation of controlled herd immunity.

Protected children

The pandemic in Québec is under control everywhere except in seniors’ residences. “All of the deaths (97%) have occurred among people 60 years of age or over. Younger people are at very low risk,” said Mr. Legault.

The premier stressed that children will not be used as guinea pigs with the reopening of schools. According to government health experts, we cannot wait until the fall to authorize lifting isolation measures all of a sudden. The risks of a second wave of contagion would be too great, with a lack of natural immunity in the general population.

Help for municipalities

Mr. Trudeau stated that the federal government will support municipalities in collaboration with the provinces during the pandemic, which is imposing a heavy financial and logistical burden on all levels of government.