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May 14, 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.

Return to the classroom in September

Québec Premier François Legault announced that elementary schools will only reopen in September in Greater Montréal instead of the planned date of May 25.

“Unfortunately, the conditions to ease isolation measures have not been met in Greater Montréal,” said Mr. Legault.

Elementary school students will have homework to do over the next few weeks, and any catch-up required to complete their school year will happen in September.

Businesses and daycares

While elementary schools will not be reopening this spring in Greater Montréal, Premier Legault stayed the course for reopening businesses and daycares on May 25 if the pandemic is under better control by then.

To encourage this possible resumption of commercial activities, Mr. Legault called on Quebecers to wear masks or face coverings when they are in public spaces or where physical distancing of two metres is not possible.

The government is studying the possibility of curbside pickup of purchases if conditions are still too risky for a gradual resumption of commercial activities on May 25.

Wearing a mask

Wearing a mask could become mandatory on public transit in order to reduce the propagation of COVID-19.

“We’re not yet at the point of requiring the use of masks on public transit, but we’re not ruling it out. It’s important that Montrealers wear a mask on public transit,” said Premier Legault.

He thinks that wearing a mask will become a habit wherever it is not possible to maintain two metres’ distance.

The government will cover the cost of masks for Montréal and its suburbs, particularly in areas where there are outbreaks or where the population is more vulnerable.

Improved screening

Mr. Legault announced that Québec is on the cusp of achieving its target in COVID-19 screening. The number of people tested per capita is one of the six conditions set out by the World Health Organization (WHO) to permit the lifting of isolation measures.

The premier thinks that 14,000 tests a day will be achieved tomorrow, which is the minimum level required to meet the WHO’s criteria in Québec.

Another condition is a sufficient number of healthcare employees in the hospital network and in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs). The health network is still short on staff, in particular due to persistent absenteeism. A hiring drive and the recall of employees absent for various reasons is underway.

Reopening of national parks on June 1

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the reopening of certain national parks as of June 1, in concert with provincial parks, as part of the resumption of certain outdoor activities.

“You’ll be able to enjoy trails and green spaces while respecting physical distancing,” said Mr. Trudeau.

Risk of fraud

Mr. Trudeau said that it is more important to help the millions of Canadians who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic than to prevent them from receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) of $2,000 a month because of the risk of fraud.

“If we set up a system that required a full verification of each and every person’s application for the CERB, millions of people would still be waiting,” he said.

“It’s not because 1% are fraudsters that we’re going to slow down or prevent millions of Canadians from receiving the assistance they need so much,” the prime minister stated. However, measures are in place to fight fraud and recover ill-gotten sums.

Summer vacation

While the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 could be endemic, the prime minister thinks it is too early to tell Canadian families how they should plan their summer vacations.

“COVID-19 is going to change and transform our society,” for several years, the prime minister said. As the government leader, Mr. Trudeau reiterated that the government’s obligation is to ensure that Canadians adapt their behaviour so that they can continue to protect themselves and to resume activities in a safe fashion.

$470 M for fishers

The Trudeau government announced $470 M in assistance for fishers whose work season is compromised by the pandemic.

“Not only do fishers have to slow down or stop their activities (…), but the price and demand for seafood has also dropped dramatically,” said Mr. Trudeau.

The benefit will cover up to 75% of their losses up to a maximum of $10,000 if they sustain a 25% loss in their income. A non-refundable subsidy of up to $10,000 is also being offered to fishing enterprises.

Employment insurance rules will also be modified so that seasonal workers can obtain benefits next year based on their income from previous years.