Canadians could see harsher measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 throughout the country if they do not follow the guidelines already in place.
That was the message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday morning (March 24), as he gave his now-daily update from the steps of Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.
“The duration of this crisis will be determined by the decisions we make right now. If you want things to go back to normal, do your part. Stay home,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau unveiled an unprecedented $82-billion financial aid package last week, which involved waiving the one-week waiting period for EI and creating a similar benefit for people who did not qualify for EI but were negatively affected by COVID-19.
Nearly 1,000,000 people have applied for EI in recent weeks as result of the coronavirus pandemic and some have reported struggles to get in touch with government representatives.
Trudeau said he understood that people were worried about getting money “directly and quickly,” but did not directly respond to a question about why cheques were not being sent to all tax filers to expedite that, as has been discussed in the U.S.
He said the measures before Parliament are meant to address issues with timeliness of the just-announced aid.
Conservatives have said they would support the emergency aid measure, but not a Liberal “power grab,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said.
Trudeau said the federal Emergencies Act, which would give sweeping new powers to his government, wasn’t necessary yet. He said premiers, with whom he spoke on Monday, said they didn’t believe there was a need for it at this point. However, he said it was not off the table amid the quickly changing situation.
As of Tuesday, there are more than 2,100 cases of COVID-19 in Canada and 25 deaths. Thirteen of those deaths are in B.C.
Chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam said nearly 120,000 people have been tested.
Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said when the virus first came to Canada, 80 to 90 per cent of cases were linked to travel abroad. But in the last week, nearly 90 per cent of cases reported to the public health agency came from spread of the virus within the community.
Tam says this is a “fundamental shift.”
If Canada is going to get a handle on community spread, then social distancing and maintaining a two-metre barrier between people is essential, she said.
“Our primary strategy is to ensure that people are self-isolating when they should be and that everyone is respecting social distancing. That, in and of itself, will cut down on the change of transmission…” Tam said Tuesday.
“I can’t emphasize how important that is.”
– With files from The Canadian Press