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June 15, 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.

Indoor gatherings of 50 people permitted

The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, has authorized, starting next Monday, indoor gatherings of a maximum of 50 people in all educational institutions as well as performance halls and movie theatres, provided that people do not circulate other than going to their seats and leaving. Physical distancing will be reduced to 1.5 metres.

However, in common areas, corridors or waiting lines, two-metre physical distancing will remain in place.

Regular handwashing, respiratory etiquette, the wearing of a mask or a face covering and physical distancing must be respected.

1-metre distance for children 16 or under

The lessons learned from the reopening of schools outside Greater Montréal during the pandemic have prompted Public Health to reduce social distancing for children aged 16 or under by half, that is, one metre.

The easing of this measure will apply to day camps and schools. Creating closed groups of four to six children has also been recommended. However, physical distancing between children and adults must continue to be two metres.

CERB to be extended

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to extend the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit for people who are unable to find a job due to the pandemic.

“We’re looking for solutions,” said Mr. Trudeau, stressing that the new eligibility rules will be unveiled this week.

Originally, applicants could receive the CERB for three months.

Closing of the U.S.-Canada border to be extended

Prime Minister Trudeau said that he and the provincial premiers agreed last Thursday, during one of their weekly teleconference meetings in the context of the pandemic, that it would be best to keep the U.S.-Canada border closed for tourism and non-essential travel beyond this coming Sunday.

Justin Trudeau said that talks are underway with the U.S. government on this issue. Québec Premier François Legault already said that he hopes the border will remain closed at least until July 21.

Urgent need for action

Premier François Legault made a plea to the National Assembly of Québec to change its laws in order to speed up the completion of infrastructure projects for schools, hospitals, public transit, roads and seniors’ homes.

He said it is unacceptable to have to wait four to seven years to complete much-needed projects due to long timeframes and bureaucracy. Mr. Legault argued that long timeframes, which exist in all spheres of government, were an issue even before the pandemic.

“We have a lot of catching up to do. […] We’re capable of building infrastructure more quickly and completing projects within reasonable timeframes,” said Mr. Legault, without addressing abuses or corruption.

Training of patient attendants

Premier François Legault confirmed that 9,800 people, out of the objective of 10,000, are starting their accelerated and paid training this week to become patient attendants in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs).

A second cohort of 2,000 people, mostly current staff members, will receive training in the fall.

Mr. Legault explained that in order to employ 10,000 people in CHSLDs, more people have to be trained, since some may not pass the training while others may realize that they are not cut out for the job.

Some 1,700 people whose applications were not selected have agreed to have their names given to private residences for potential hiring.

Isolation measures to be completely lifted

Premier Legault explained that the gradual easing of isolation measures implemented by Public Health is intended to properly assess the impact of lifting restrictive measures on the hospitalization of people infected with COVID-19.

“I’m the first person to hope for a return to normal life,” said Mr. Legault, suggesting that isolation measures will soon be a thing of the past.

Victory and defeat

François Legault stressed that, after three months, it can be concluded that there has been both victory and defeat in the face of the pandemic in Québec.

The defeat is the disastrous situation in CHSLDs. There have been 4,700 deaths caused by COVID-19 among the 218,000 people who live in seniors’ residences in Québec: “What happened is unacceptable. It is our duty to correct what can be corrected.”

The victory is that the number of deaths in the general public, outside the CHSLDs, did not exceed 500.

“Even though one death is one death too many, if we look at the ratio, it’s a clear victory. […] I am extremely grateful to Quebecers. The low number of deaths is thanks to their commitment to following the guidelines,” Mr. Legault said.