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June 11, 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.

$14 billion for the community

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed that the $14-billion transfer he is proposing to the provinces in order to safely relaunch the economy must be used “for basic elements necessary” for the lives of Canadians in the context of the pandemic.

He wants to ensure that citizens have childcare services and 10 days of paid sick leave this fall, that healthcare workers have access to personal protective equipment and that screening and the tracing of people who are infected is in place.

“This is not going to be a blank cheque for the provinces,” said Mr. Trudeau.

Premier François Legault stated that health is a provincial jurisdiction and that there should be no conditions attached to the transfer of these funds. Mr. Legault thinks that Québec’s portion is somewhere between $3 billion and $4 billion.

The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, expects that if a second wave of COVID-19 contagion occurs this fall, isolation will be different than what was experienced this winter.

“It will probably not be total isolation, like the first time,” he said.

Many lessons have been learned from the first wave of contagion, in particular regarding the less severe impact of COVID-19 on children. The essential services maintained would also be different.

Soldiers still necessary

While the presence of Canadian Armed Forces soldiers is slated to end tomorrow in Québec’s residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs), Premier François Legault is asking that they remain deployed until September 15.

He does not understand what emergency could be more important that would require the soldiers to be deployed elsewhere right now. He also does not understand why more than 400 soldiers are currently deployed in CHSLDs, while 350 others are “supervising them.”

Mr. Legault noted that the government has acted quickly to meet the need to train 10,000 new patient attendants, beginning Monday. In the meantime, the presence of 1,000 soldiers is still necessary.

$750 million for tourism

The premier announced a $750-M assistance program for the tourism industry and also called on Quebecers to be tourists in their own province this summer.

“The hotels are empty. […] We have to be realistic, there will be no foreign tourists in Québec this summer,” he said, in justifying the program. Mr. Legault also noted that in this context, not every worker in the industry will be able to be rehired right away.

Reducing timeframes while respecting regulations

Premier François Legault stressed the importance of collaboration from the opposition parties in the National Assembly in passing Bill 61 in order to reduce timelines in completing 202 public infrastructure projects valued at $14 billion over two years.

Mr. Legault expressed exasperation that it takes four to seven years to build a CHSLD in Québec. “I don’t accept this. […] This can be done in two years, while complying with regulations,” he said.

The premier insisted that it is possible to reduce timeframes without compromising requirements.

Mr. Legault reiterated that it is important for the public sector to replace the private sector in the context of the crisis in order to maintain business activities and support the relaunching of the economy.

Resumption of commercial flights

Premier Legault does not know what the situation will be regarding the resumption of commercial flights for tourism this summer, but he reiterated that they are presently still banned.

The Québec company Air Transat announced this morning that it will resume flights beginning on July 23.

The national director of Public Health, Dr. Arruda, specified that on this issue, “no decision has been made yet.”

Obligation to wear a mask

While several public authorities across Canada are starting to require the use of masks in closed public spaces or where there is heavy human traffic, the Québec government prefers recommending this practice rather than imposing it.

This question has been raised here because several Québec health experts are asking that the government impose the practice, particularly on public transit, in anticipation of a second wave of contagion.

The same applies to physical distancing of two meters, currently recommended in Québec. The national director of Public Health is assessing the possibility of reducing this distance by half, which would facilitate the resumption of activities for certain businesses, in particular restaurants.