/Federal government to allocate $1 billion to contain COVID-19 as national infections reach 95

Federal government to allocate $1 billion to contain COVID-19 as national infections reach 95

As the Liberal government announced $1 billion to battle coronavirus, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said COVID-19 could ultimately infect between 30 and 70 per cent of Canadians.

Hajdu was facing questions in committee from the NDP’s health critic Don Davies about the potential spread of the disease in Canada and just how prepared the government was to handle an increase in cases.

“Can we expect a thousand or 5,000? Do you have those numbers or not? I have asked this question repeatedly and I am never getting an answer from the government,” said Davies at the committee.

Hajdu said the government is preparing for the worst, because so much is unknown.

“It is irresponsible to give you a number, because we don’t know. The science is not clear, because there are a range of numbers that have happened in various countries,” she said. “I would say it is safe to assume that it could be between 30 per cent of the population — that acquire COVID-19 — and 70 per cent.”

That would mean of Canada’s 37.6 million people, somewhere between 11. 3 million and 26.3 million could contract the virus.

Davies asked how the government would keep up with the demand for items like respirators, if that many Canadians got sick.

Hajdu said they’re planning to buy more supplies, but their efforts are about flattening the curve of cases, so the health system isn’t suddenly overwhelmed.

“The intent of flattening the curve is to ensure that everyone doesn’t get sick at once,” she said. “We all have a role to play in reducing the curve; the curve, the extreme peak of illness all at once, is what puts your health system in crisis.”

Earlier Wednesday, the government announced $1 billion for a variety of measures meant to reduce the risk that the virus will spread rapidly.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the money will include $500 million to the provinces to aid their responses as well as $275 million for research. There was also $100 million for the federal response, which includes support to national testing labs, Indigenous communities and bulk buying of protective equipment.

“I want all premiers and all Canadians to know our government is here for you. We will make sure you have everything you need,” said Trudeau.

Canada’s premiers are coming to Ottawa for previously scheduled first minister’s meetings on Thursday and Friday. The money to provinces will be distributed with the same approach the government regularly uses for health transfers.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he appreciates the support, but the federal transfer will amount to about $60 million for his province, which is shy of what they expect the virus will cost the health system.

“Our initial estimate of the prospective costs to the health system is $80 million, so it doesn’t cover that.”

Trudeau also announced a change to the employment insurance program, waiving the mandatory one-week waiting period. This will allow those who self-isolate or quarantine to apply for money immediately.

He said the government doesn’t want anyone to fear losing their job because of the illness.

“No-one should have to worry about their job if they have to be quarantined. No employer should feel like they have to lay off a worker because of the virus. We can support you and we will.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Health Patty Hajdu, Chief Medical Officer Theresa Tam, Minister of Finance Bill Morneau and President of the Treasury Board Jean-Yves Duclos during a news conference on the coronavirus situation, in Ottawa, Wednesday March 11, 2020.

Adrian Wyld /


The government is also boosting funding for a work share program that helps in situations where employers reduce hours, because of a drop in business.

The research funding will come on top of the $27 million the government has already announced this week. Hajdu said the Canadian research community has good ideas

“We had a volume of responses from researchers across the country that were also excellent proposals. Amplifying our ability to fund those proposals at this time allows us to much more quickly generate the research,” she said. “It is obviously a Canadian response in terms of research, but it contributes to the global community of researchers who are working so quickly.”

Trudeau said the aid package was just the government’s first move and he was open to expanding it further.

“We are ready to do more as the situation warrants it,” he said.

Trudeau said Canada’s current strong economy means the government has room to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

“The message we have for Canadians and for Canadian business is that we will be there for them.”

It is irresponsible to give you a number, because we don’t know

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said they’re still learning more about the virus everyday, but it is definitely a considerable challenge and well-suited to spread in a community.

“It is probably a virus that has hit the sweet spot. It isn’t completely lethal, so there are people with mild illness and a range of clinical symptoms that can transmit the virus,” she said. “Viruses always have surprises, which is why we have to keep monitoring it.”

In question period, Conservative health critic Matt Jeneroux asked why the government wasn’t mandating people coming back from high-risk countries like China, South Korea, Italy or Iran to stay in quarantine.

“The government has the ability under the Quarantine Act to require all individuals who have visited high-risk areas to be placed in quarantine. When will they use it?”

Hajdu said they’re using the border to inform people about risks and connect them to important information. She said closing borders or mandating quarantine might feel like a good response, but the science doesn’t support that approach.

“We have to take decisions that are actually about protecting the health and safety of Canadians,” she said. “I will use the evidence that is provided to me.”

The illness has sickened more than 100,000 people around the world and led to mass quarantines and restrictions on public gatherings.

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