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April 27, 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 Canadian and Québec governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, confirmed that the government has received the first applications for the wage subsidy for employers, which will allow them to maintain their employment connection with their staff.

The premier of Québec, François Legault, announced the gradual reopening of elementary schools and daycares starting on May 11 in the regions, and on May 19 in the Montréal metropolitan area.

High schools, CEGEPs and universities will resume their activities at the end of August.

The gradual reopening of businesses will be announced tomorrow.

 Emergency Wage Subsidy

Enrolment for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy began this morning. Already, 10,000 Canadian businesses have signed on. The program guarantees 75% of payroll.

“Whether you’re running a charity that employs 200 people or a start-up that employs 20, you could receive up to $847 per employee per week,” Mr. Trudeau said.

The subsidy is retroactive to March 15, and covers a 12-week period, until June.

Employers will start receiving the subsidy as of May 7.

Obligation to pay back

For those who benefitted from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) of $500 per week, Prime Minister Trudeau reiterated that this money must be paid back by anyone receiving the wage subsidy. The Canada Revenue Agency will follow up on this.

Since these programs provide emergency assistance, Mr. Trudeau stressed the importance, for the government, of quickly providing financial assistance to those who have lost their jobs even if this results in the overlapping of benefits.

Reopening of schools and daycares

Premier François Legault announced, with the consent of Public Health, the reopening of elementary schools and daycares on May 11 and 19, if the situation remains under control until then.

“The gradual reopening of schools was not considered for the purposes of building herd immunity against COVID-19, but rather for specific social reasons,” Mr. Legault said.

These considerations take into account children with learning difficulties, the limited health risk of COVID-19 for children in general, the stable situation in hospitals and the fact that life must go on. Classes will be limited to 15 students.

Follow-up and protection

“The reopening of schools and daycares will be monitored to ensure that no one is exposed to COVID-19,” said Mr. Legault.

Dr. Horacio Arruda added that the situation will be closely monitored to avoid any outbreaks. Families with parents or children who have medical conditions should abstain from sending their children to school.

A summer of isolation

As the Québec government gradually introduces the resumption of educational and economic activities, the isolation, social-distancing and hygiene guidelines will remain in place for the summer.

No gatherings will be permitted during the summer, including groups in parks, social gatherings and family dinners.

“Businesses that can reopen but do not follow social-distancing, hygiene and safety rules for their staff will be shut down,” said the national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda.

Immunity: the unknown factor

“As long as there’s no treatment akin to a vaccine, we will have to continue to be very prudent,” when it comes to future procedures to end isolation, because at this point, there is still no proof of immunity, said Prime Minister Trudeau.

“Someone can have COVID-19 and then get it again. We will have to be extremely prudent,” Mr. Trudeau said. He gave the example of the Spanish flu, which was fatal in the spring and even deadlier in the fall of 1918, to highlight the risks of this type of virus when there is no cure or possible immunity.

11,000 new volunteers

Following Mr. Legault’s last appeal for volunteers to work full time for two weeks, in residential and long-term care facilities (CHSLDs), 11,000 people offered their help.

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to fill all the positions and retake control in our CHSLDs. I’m very touched by this, because it takes courage. Thank you,” Mr. Legault said.

Assistance for seniors

Prime Minister Mr. Trudeau did not provide details about possible future financial aid packages for seniors, adding that his government is working on it and that an announcement will be made soon.

Roadblocks and cottages

Dr. Arruda stressed that the progressive easing of isolation measures with the return to school and the gradual reopening of businesses will include the removal of roadblocks between regions.

He stated that an announcement on access to cottages will be made very soon, but that all of these measures are very dependent on the situation remaining under control, both in terms of the spreading of the virus and the capacity of hospitals to cope with the situation.

If this is not the case, these measures will be reinstituted.