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May 19, 2020 – 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 federal and provincial governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Border closure extended to June 21

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that an agreement was reached with the United States to extend the border closure until June 21 for non-essential travel.

Québec Premier François Legault had already made the request and is now suggesting that the border be closed in July as well, as a precaution.

Mr. Trudeau did not rule out the possibility of further extending the border closure.

The prime minister also put things into perspective, saying that, “We’re going to look at what’s happening in the rest of the world. At each step, the right decisions must be made based on the moment.”

Only essential travel and the transportation of goods have been authorized at the Canada-U.S. border since March 21.

Expanding assistance to businesses

Prime Minister Trudeau has expanded the eligibility criteria for small businesses to obtain a $40,000 loan under the Canada Emergency Business Account.

“If you have a hair salon where your stylists rent chairs, if you’re a physiotherapist who works for yourself or if you own a gym that hires trainers on contract, this program is there for you,” said Mr. Trudeau.

This assistance is being extended to family-run businesses that have contract workers or pay staff with dividends. Over 600,000 companies have already taken advantage of these interest-free loans, of which $10,000 will not have to be paid back in some cases.

Roaming and malicious virus

Premier Legault and the national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, reminded Quebecers to remain disciplined as isolation measures are gradually being eased, to avoid a resurgence of the contagion.

“The virus roams. It’s important to protect yourself and to protect others. We’re glad to be easing isolation measures, but if the virus spreads, we’ll have to put Québec back on pause,” Mr. Legault said.

Dr. Arruda explained that Québec is in reopening mode, which must not translate into relaxing the health guidelines. “This is a malicious virus. It’s still present in Québec. It hasn’t disappeared,” he said.

It is important to respect the health guidelines, namely, physical distancing of two metres, wearing a face covering everywhere in Québec, particularly on public transit and in businesses, and handwashing.

Provincial assistance for retail stores

After learning that the retail chains Aldo and Reitmans were granted protection from their creditors, Premier Legault wants to make sure that all big retail companies can survive the crisis and stay in business.

“We want as many retail stores as possible to be able to reopen,” he said.

Mr. Legault stressed that the government is preparing to intervene in this matter, but that there are many issues to consider, including the growth of online retail stores that reduce the need for sales spaces.

“We want to set up a program that will complement the federal government initiative to help both big chains and small stores,” said Mr. Legault.

Commission of inquiry into CHSLDs

While Ontario will be setting up a commission of inquiry in September to look into the situation of its residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs), the premier of Québec prefers to take a few more weeks to get through the crisis in order to get a broader overview before deciding the form the inquiry will take into what happened in Québec’s seniors’ residences during the pandemic.

“We’re going to find a way to get to the bottom of this, without wasting time. There are solutions we want to apply,” he said.

Countering part-time work

Mr. Legault said that workers in the health network are continuing to gradually return to work, offering relief to those on the job, which is good news.

However, the premier noted that it is not normal to see half the staff working part time in the health network. With the unions, incentives must be found to ensure that the positions are filled full time. Mr. Legault pointed out that for 18 months budgets were allocated, but the positions remained vacant.

“We have to find solutions so that our network can function,” he said in his appeal to the unions.

Screening and tracking

Mr. Trudeau insisted that massive screening and tracking of people who are infected, whether symptomatic or not, are essential to resuming activities in Canada.

The prime minister wants to establish a strategy with the provinces so that both screening and tracking are done systematically, in particular, with the use of smart phone applications.