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July 13, 2020 – Federal and provincial government update 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.

Masks mandatory in closed public spaces

Québec Premier François Legault announced that masks will be mandatory across Québec as of Saturday in all closed public spaces in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Mr. Legault noted that the number of cases has increased slightly in the last few days. “We’re not worried yet, but the numbers must not continue to grow,” he said.

Offenders face a fine of $400 to $6,000. Until August 1, merchants will be responsible for ensuring that the measure is respected in their place of business. As of August 1, anyone not following this directive, whether a merchant or a client, could be fined.

The director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, specified that this measure targets the population, not workers. For workers, health rules under the pandemic are set out in the guides developed by specific organizations, such as the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST).

Freedom is wearing a mask

For the many people who are not wearing masks and claim it is an attack on their rights and freedoms, the premier responded that during a global pandemic, “freedom is being allowed to circulate despite the pandemic.”

“We wear masks in solidarity with others. It’s far better to wear a mask than to return to lockdown,” said Mr. Legault.

He added that mask use must become “automatic in our society. We need to get used to it. Nothing is going to change in the next couple of months or even several months.”

Ten-person limit

While the premier congratulated the population for following isolation rules four months ago and, consequently, saving thousands of lives, he stressed that a lot of people are not respecting the 10-person limit during home gatherings.

Mr. Legault said that while authorities have been somewhat tolerant by not handing out fines, this will change if the situation persists.

Dr. Arruda reiterated that the conditions for home gatherings are similar to those in bars, because it is very easy to forget about maintaining a physical distance of two metres.

Over 600 bar inspections

Bars constitute the most pressing concern right now in terms of the spread of COVID-19. “As we’ve seen in Florida and California, bars are where the virus is spreading,” said Mr. Legault.

Last week, the minister of Health and Social Services announced new measures for bars, including reducing capacity to 50%, midnight as the final call for drinks, the requirement for clients to remain seated at the tables, and a 1 a.m. closing time.

Over 600 inspections were conducted last weekend and the new directives were followed.

“We wish to thank bar owners. Keep it up. Bars are strategic. It’s where we’ve seen a resumption in community transmission,” the premier said.

Call for help

François Legault also sent out the message to anyone in distress to call the Parent line at 1-800-361-5085.

The premier was referring to the Amber alert made last week that ended in the discovery of the bodies of the two girls and an intense ongoing search for their father.

“Asking for help is the responsible thing to do. There’s no shame in it,” the premier said.

Since the onset of the pandemic, government authorities have brought up the stress and worries that isolation and the health measures can cause, combined with the resulting social and financial challenges.

Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy extended

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until December, in the context of slow economic recovery, in order to help companies pursue their activities and maintain ties with their employees.

The program provides employers with a subsidy equivalent to 75% of their employees’ wages, based on certain conditions. The program started on March 15 and was supposed to end on August 29.

Canada-U.S. border

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked to U.S President Donald Trump regarding the free circulation of goods and people between the two countries, with border crossings limited to essential travel and trade until July 21.

“We’ll be making an announcement soon,” said Mr. Trudeau, reiterating that the concern guiding government decisions is the protection of Canadians’ health.

Since this makes business planning and trade difficult, there is no plan to announce a measure that will last for several months. “Making long-term predictions is not the best in the current context,” said Mr. Trudeau.

Justin Trudeau apologizes

Justin Trudeau apologized to Canadians for failing to recuse himself from discussions around the awarding of the $912-M contract to the charitable organization WE Charity, given that he and his wife have connections to the organization and his mother and brother have had paid speaking engagements with it.

This contract was awarded by the Canadian government without a call for tenders to manage subsidies ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 for student volunteering this summer.

The prime minister regrets his actions even more since they have led to a delay in distributing funds to youth. The charity was to receive $20 M to manage the program.