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May 11, 2020 – Federal and provincial 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.

Worrisome situation in Greater Montréal

The premier of Québec, François Legault, said that he is worried about the spread of the coronavirus in Montréal given the pessimistic scenarios issued by the Institut national de santé publique (INSPQ) on Friday. One of these scenarios predicts that, with the easing of isolation measures in the current context, contagion will spread causing up to 150 deaths a day this summer.

He reiterated, however, that before these projections were released, the government, in accord with Public Health, had postponed, at least until May 25, the reopening of businesses, daycares and schools in the greater Montréal area, while activities started to resume this morning everywhere else in Québec.

Return to school in September?

If schools do not reopen on May 25 in Greater Montréal, Premier Legault raised, for the first time, the possibility that they may only reopen in the fall.

“We’re going to rely on the science,” he said, to explain why a decision has not yet been made and will be made based on scientific data to protect the health and safety of the population.

While some universities are considering remote learning this fall, Mr. Legault thinks that it is too soon to make a decision. He hopes that students will be able to sit in the classroom in universities, colleges, high schools and elementary schools.

Reinforcements still needed

The premier of Québec implored healthcare staff who are still off the job due to COVID-19 but who could return to work to do so: “Please, come back! There are people in the network who need a break, who need reinforcements,” he said.

Even though a few hundred employees have returned to work, there are still more than 11,000 people missing from the health network.

Soldiers deployed in CHSLDs

Currently, 780 soldiers have been deployed in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) in Québec. There are more to come soon.

Mr. Legault thanked the Canadian Armed Forces for their assistance, and hopes he can count on their presence until the end of the pandemic.

“There’s an internal policy in the armed forces that requires the rotation of soldiers every 28 days for this type of deployment,” said the premier. He hopes that agreements can be reached so that this rule can be waived during these exceptional circumstances.

Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility

The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, unveiled a new aid package for large employers, the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF). The program provides loans to big businesses that are unable to obtain financing on the private market.

All industries are eligible under this program, but must not have a history of tax evasion. The funds must be used to cover payroll, excluding executive salaries, to maintain working conditions and to protect pensions.

The LEEFF cannot be used to settle insolvency or to finance an unprofitable business.

Changing guidelines

Premier Legault offered his assurances about the contradictions that may seem to exist in the changing guidelines issued to the population since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The pandemic is evolving. The way to control the situation is evolving. It’s normal that the guidelines are evolving. It’s not because we’re changing our minds, it’s because we’re adapting to the situation,” he said.

The premier was referring to changes made to the guidelines regarding isolation measures based on a person’s age, access for caregivers, physical distancing rules, etc.

CHSLDs unprepared

Mr. Legault said that the high number of deaths in Québec can partly be attributed to the fact that “we were ill-prepared’ in CHSLDs.

“First and foremost, this is a societal issue. In Québec, proportionally, there are more seniors in CHSLDs than anywhere else in the world. It’s a choice we’ve made as a society. We’re going to have to revisit this.”

Other factors include the organization and working conditions in CHSLDs. “People have been underpaid in CHSLDs,” said Mr. Legault. He also pointed to the fact that many are working part time in these establishments. “The staff moved from one CHSLD to another at the beginning of the crisis, which intensified the spread of the virus.”

Appealing to the regions

With regard to people in the regions who are worried about tourists from Greater Montréal travelling outside the city with the easing of isolation measures, Mr. Legault asked for tolerance.

“I don’t want Quebecers to be in conflict or to be divided. We’re all in the same boat.”

He reiterated that there will be no international tourists for a few years, so people in the regions will be glad to welcome tourists from Montréal.