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May 21, 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.

Day camps get the green light

Québec Premier François Legault authorized, with the agreement of Public Health, the opening of day camps as of June 22 everywhere in Québec. Special instructions will be imposed, including a reduced child-counsellor ratio.

The challenge of organizing day camps is twofold: Firstly, the number of counsellors must be doubled, which is in itself “a major challenge,” said Mr. Legault.

Secondly, there is the financial competition of the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which grants $2,000 a month to recipients. Young people will have to be convinced to work rather than receive the CERB.

The premier assured municipalities that the Québec government is ready to help with this, since they subsidize most day camps.

Public pools and other activities

Still with the approval of health authorities, the government is preparing a schedule for the reopening of other sports and leisure activities and, in particular, outdoor public pools.

Importance of wearing a mask

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault reiterated the importance of wearing a mask when it is difficult to maintain a physical distance of two metres from others.

In Québec, Mr. Legault would prefer that citizens apply this directive rather than having to make masks mandatory, but he has not ruled this out.

He explained that making masks mandatory requires police surveillance, ticketing and fines. “I’d rather Quebecers follow the guidelines as they’ve done from the start,” said Mr. Legault.

The minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Andrée Laforest, is studying how the government could financially support municipalities for the free distribution of masks to more vulnerable populations.

Not prepared for a second wave

Mr. Legault explained that staffing challenges in hospitals and CHSLDs are still significant enough that Québec is not prepared to deal with a possible second wave of contagion of COVID-19.

“If there’s a second wave, we’re not ready,” he said.

The health network currently relies on 10,000 volunteers from the Jecontribue.ca platform and 1,000 soldiers to function, in addition to regular staff.

The national director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, reiterated the importance of maintaining discipline and continuing to follow the health directives. “The success of the next stages (of easing isolation measures) depends heavily on following these directives. […] If we end up with total freedom, we’ll have to imprison ourselves again. I am pleading with you to apply the directives,” he said.

More screening tests

For the second time in a week, Premier Legault stated that he was dissatisfied with the number of screening tests performed daily, which has not attained the target of 14,000.

While he noted that, proportionately, Québec is one of the places with the highest rate of testing, he still wants “14,000 people to be tested a day.”

Acknowledging mayors

Premier Legault thanked mayors across Québec as well as municipal staff for the “truly intense” work they have accomplished over the last 10 weeks.

Mr. Legault stated that there is still a lot of work ahead. “The crisis isn’t over. The situation is still difficult,” he said, calling on people to show tolerance and understanding.

“Things are not perfect. We’ll have to make other adjustments. I’m asking you to be understanding,” said the premier.

Reimbursing plane tickets

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that serious arbitration is required to deal with, on the one hand, reimbursing plane tickets purchased by Canadians that could not be used and, on the other, the survival of Canada’s airline industry.

Mr. Trudeau understands the discontent of consumers, but it is important, he said, that airlines survive and are ready to resume their activities when the economy is relaunched.

$75 M for Indigenous people off reserve

Mr. Trudeau announced $75 M in assistance for organizations that help the million Indigenous people who live off reserve. These funds will be used to address food insecurity, support vulnerable seniors and at-risk youth, provide mental health services and prevent domestic violence.

Oka National Park

Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Legault hope that negotiations yield results quickly so that there can be outdoor activities at Oka National Park. The Mohawks of Kanesatake erected roadblocks to prevent people coming from other regions from spreading COVID-19 among their population.

Mr. Trudeau noted that this reticence exists in several regions across the country. “It’s important that all the necessary decisions be made to ensure people’s safety. We share the same desire, particularly for the most vulnerable. I know that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.