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October 1, 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.

Situation still critical

Despite the new restrictions to limit social contact, in addition to the closing of bars, restaurants, movie theatres, performance venues and reception halls, in Québec’s three red-alert zones, Premier François Legault noted that the situation is still critical.

Mr. Legault reiterated that in mid-August, 50 new people were infected with COVID-19 each day, while today the number was 900 people. In mid-August, there were some one hundred hospitalizations; today there were 250 hospitalizations and 16 deaths.

“These are real people. I understand that Quebecers are fed up with following guidelines. I realize that these measures (restrictions) are hard for everyone. […] We don’t want to oppress people, we want them to take all of the necessary measures possible. […]  Contagion leads to hospitalizations and deaths. This is not trivial,” said Mr. Legault.

Clarifying the guidelines

Québec’s director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, stated that “the devil is in the detail,” and promised that “very coherent guidelines” will be announced so that Quebecers understand what they cannot do outside their homes.

He simplified by saying that people must avoid all social contact that is not within their immediate family bubble. Many examples will be presented soon on the government’s website so that everyone can have a better understanding of the new guidelines in the face of much confusion.

In terms of outdoors, the guidelines are stricter than in the spring. For example, in parks, Dr. Arruda does not recommend crowd gatherings, even while respecting 2-metre social distancing, because the risk is too great that distancing will not be maintained during these gatherings.

Mr. Legault does not recommend outings among friends, even for outdoor activities, unless physical distancing can be rigorously respected. As for team sports, which continue to be allowed, more details will also be announced.

Financial assistance for businesses forced to close

The minister of the Economy and Innovation, Pierre Fitzgibbon, unveiled the details of a $100-million program to support some 12,000 businesses that are being forced to close from October 1 to 28, in keeping with Public Health directives in the red zones, including the greater Montréal region.

All of these businesses will be able to obtain a loan to cover their municipal and school taxes, rent, interest on loans, electricity, gas, insurance, and telecommunication costs as well as permits and associated costs. Based on certain criteria, 80% of the loan will be forgiven, up to a maximum of $15,000.

Minister Fitzgibbon stressed that the government has modified its existing programs in order to simply the process.

Assistance will be accessible to businesses that are being forced to cease their activities and restaurants that are continuing to offer delivery or take-out.

Businesses that qualify will be able to apply on Investissement Québec and the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation’s websites.

Mr. Legault stressed that assistance to businesses in the cultural sector will be unveiled tomorrow.

Schools being closely monitored

Québec Premier François Legault stated that “there are all kinds of experts who are making all kinds of recommendations” with regard to the guidelines that should be imposed in schools to stop the spread of COVID-19 and that these guidelines could change according to how the contagion develops.

He stated that the most important thing for the government is to follow Public Health guidelines and that “these measures could be intensified in the coming weeks.”

Québec’s director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, stated that he may have to impose the wearing of face coverings all day in the classroom, but that this will depend on various epidemiological criteria.

A third or fourth wave

Dr. Horacio Arruda also stated that a third or even a fourth wave of the COVID-19 contagion could occur and that Public Health is meeting with experts to discuss this scenario.

However, Premier François Legault reassured the population by adding that Québec has enough personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, gowns, etc.) for several months. “Some is even being manufactured here in Québec.”

The situation regarding screening and analyses is improving. The “bottleneck” however is not in the screening phase, but during laboratory testing. Most of the people tested get their results quickly, but this is not always the case. “This will improve, but it will take some time,” he said.

25,000 businesses at risk

Government experts estimate that some 25,000 businesses are at risk of shutting down permanently under the current circumstances, and that it is very important for robust measures to be put in place to maintain the infrastructure of the economic ecosystem so that the economy can bounce back when the pandemic is over.

This is the spirit in which the government is ensuring support to businesses that are being forced to close in October and putting in place a plan for seven sectors  to relaunch the economy after the pandemic.

“We’re working everyday to align investing for the future with maintaining the economic infrastructure,” said the minister of the Economy and Innovation.

In terms of the major challenges facing Montréal’s downtown area, the minister said that the key to survival is for people to return to work in their office buildings, but that this responsibility falls on businesses, not the government.

$10 billion in infrastructures

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s three-year $10-billion investment plan to create 60,000 jobs across the country.

Some $2.5 million will be earmarked for clean energy and the storage of clean electricity; $2 billion for the Internet; $2 billion for energy efficient building retrofits; $1.5 billion for agriculture irrigation; and $1.5 billion to promote zero-emission buses.

The minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Catherine McKenna, stressed that the goal is to create jobs during the pandemic while preparing a modern economy for the future.