Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rolling out new measures to mobilize the Canadian science sector in its development of a COVID-19 vaccine and to assist farmers impacted by the pandemic. He also offered a scathing rebuke for those who aren’t heeding public health advice to keep a safe physical distance between themselves and others.
Monday morning Trudeau announced the federal government will spend $192 million on the development and production of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. The money is being made available to Canadian research and life-science companies and educational bodies across the country, including some who focus on antibody discovery and plant-based vaccines.
“We’re investing in a long-term solution to COVID-19,” Trudeau said, noting that a vaccine will take months to develop and test. “Once there are promising options, Canada needs the capacity to mass produce treatments as quickly as possible.”
The government has also put a call out to Canadian universities, colleges and polytechnic institutions to play a role as well.
“We need all hands on deck,” said Trudeau. By mid-afternoon on Friday there were 2,035 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Canada.
The prime minister also presented new measures to support farmers and agri-food businesses that are facing financial impacts of the pandemic. This includes $5 billion in lending capacity for producers, agribusinesses and food processor and a six month extension on loan repayments, set to cost $173 million in deferred loans to keep the money in farmers’ pockets.
“I know these are hard times,” Trudeau said to the farming community, offering a thank you to those in the food sector who are keeping Canadians fed at this time of crisis.
Speaking in more detail about the new supports for Canadian farmers, Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said times like these show “just how critical” farmers and food producers and distributors are to the country.
'Enough is enough… stay home': PM
The prime minister’s remarks from outside Rideau Cottage came as Canadians settle into another week of what experts say could be months of physical distancing measures.
Trudeau is now into his second week of self-isolation given his wife’s positive test on March 12 and he said he plans on staying isolated through his full 14 days and will re-assess with health experts once that period is up.
Trudeau said that the physical distancing measures may be taking a toll but they cannot stop.
“It means keeping two metres between yourself and someone else. It means avoiding groups. It means staying home as much as possible. If you choose to ignore that advice you’re not just putting yourself at risk, you’re putting others at risk,” Trudeau said. “Enough is enough. Go home and stay home. This is what we all need to be doing and we’re going to make sure this happens.”
Trudeau will be speaking with all premiers Monday evening. All of them have declared some form of provincial public health crisis or state of emergency.
Trudeau said on the agenda for that call will be their collective quarantine and self-isolation measures, and it’s possible further measures to close interprovincial borders will be on the table during that discussion.
Over the weekend public health and government officials expressed increasing alarm at the crowds seen gathering in public places such as parks and beaches, prompting Health Minister Patty Hajdu to urge Canadians to think about their obligations and the federal government’s ability to drastically eliminate Canadians' ability to move freely, through powers they could enact under both the Emergencies Act and the Quarantine Act.
On Monday Hajdu said the government is actively considering stronger measures for those who are returning to Canada, including possibly private transportation for those who can’t get home themselves.
She also noted that the largest demographic of Canadians testing positive are working-age people, some of whom have had “very serious complications” as a result of contracting the virus.
So far the federal government has not chosen to take such draconian measures, but if it becomes clear that provincial and municipal efforts to restrict movement are not effective, Trudeau re-emphasized on Monday that it’s a step they will take.
“We've all seen the pictures online of people who seem to think they're invincible, well you’re not,” Trudeau said. “Nothing that could help is off the table.”
Among the ways the government is exploring enforcing these requirements: random inspections or hotlines, as Hajdu floated on Monday.
Trudeau said he knows people who are following guidance are frustrated by those who aren’t, and everyone needs to “do their part.”
Referencing the new cross-Canada federal advertising campaigns being rolled out, the prime minister said that they will reach everyone and there is no excuse to not heed the advice of public health officials. These messages are being delivered from high-profile Canadians in the cultural sector, as well as Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam.
Tam said on Monday that everyone who is co-operating with the physical distancing and self-isolation requirements are helping give Canadian experts the time needed to find solutions and hopefully alleviate some of the pressure hospitals and clinics are and will increasingly feel as more and more cases of COIVD-19 in Canada are uncovered.
“Listening is your duty and staying home is your way to serve,” Trudeau said.
Border, mental health measures
Following the prime minister's remarks, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined other officials to provide an update on the COVID-19 efforts, after leading a meeting of the special cabinet committee focused on the federal response to the novel coronavirus.
Asked about the shutdown of non-essential travel at the Canada-U.S. border that came into force on Friday at midnight, Freeland didn’t know of any issues that were raised but pointed Canadians toward the Canada Border Services Agency’s website if they needed further clarity about who will be allowed to still cross.
According to the CBSA, between March 14 and March 20 a total of 959,600 Canadians and 43,890 permanent residents returned to Canada from abroad.
Hajdu also announced Monday that she will soon have more to say about steps the government is taking to address the mental health pressures a national quarantine-like environment can have on people. She said they are working on releasing a free national app that Canadians can download and connect with mental health services directly.
“I’m very concerned about mental health and I’m very concerned about other situations related to the fears and anxiety that people are feeling….and of course forced into situations they prefer not to be in,” she said.