OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the government is merging two previously introduced employment insurance benefits for Canadians who are now unemployed, or off work because of COVID-19.

As part of this push to shut down most aspects of society and ensure people can be away from work or at home with their kids who aren’t in school right now, the federal government rolled out an initial multi-billion dollar fiscal aid package that passed Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

As part of this package the government initially unveiled separate emergency care and emergency support benefits, but they have now been combined into the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and will provide $2,000 a month for four months, for people who are off work and without an income as a result of the novel coronavirus.

Trudeau said this benefit will aid Canadians who have either lost their job or are off sick or taking care of their children because of COVID-19. He said that Canadians should receive this assistance approximately 10 days after applying.

“If you lost your job because of COVID-19, whether you're full time contract or self-employed, this new benefit will be there for you. If you're sick or quarantined looking after someone sick, or at home taking care of your kids. It's there for you. And even if you're still employed but not receiving income because of this crisis, the CERB is there for you, Trudeau said.

Speaking to this change, Finance Minister Bill Morneau cited the rapid pace in which the federal government is making announcements about its response plan, and said that in the week since the aid package was presented, the government realized there was a more efficient way to get the money out the door to those who need it.

The change also represents a boost to the overall amount of financial assistance the government is offering. Initially the government committed $27 billion in direct help and another $55 billion in economic stimulus. Now, Morneau said the direct help to families and businesses totals $52 billion, bringing the overall size of the economic aid package to $107 billion.

Morneau said the government managed to see this change updated in the legislation that worked through both the House and Senate in the last 24 hours.

“We’ve designed this in a way so that it’s a wage subsidy delivered directly to employees, to people,” Morneau said.

The prime minister said that the federal government is doing everything it can to help those worried about paying bills, including boosting the teams processing the ballooning number of claims that have already been filed.

The federal government is committing that more financial assistance will come as the pandemic wages on. 

Nearly one million Canadians applied for employment insurance in the last week or so.

“Far too many Canadians are having these tough conversations about finances and their future… The hard truth is that people are out of work because of this crisis and worried about what comes next,” said Trudeau. 

Morneau told the Senate on Wednesday that this emergency benefit should begin to roll out in early April, while other top-ups will be available in May, but that the government is doing what it can to get money to the Canadians that need it as quickly as possible under such an unprecedented situation. 

“Clearly the systems were not built for this type of stress and strain,” Morneau told senators, calling the novel coronavirus pandemic a crisis “unlike any we have ever faced.”

“We expect a very challenging time, but a temporary time, to come out of this challenge with our economy intact, we unfortunately do not know either the depth nor duration of this challenge and that’s why are keen to be working together with other parties to make sure we continue to have that capacity to respond in a very, very timely way to every challenge we see,” said the finance minister. 

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play Minister of Employment Carla Qualtrough said the benefit will be automated through a new system aimed at getting the funds out fast, and is based on broad eligibility dating back to March 15.

“The EI system wasn’t built for workers who have to stay home because their kids can’t go to school because of a pandemic, so we knew that we had to build a system and create a program outside of existing programs that can be delivered quickly to everyone,” she said.

Also on CTV’s Question Period outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his concern right now is making sure there are jobs to go back to for Canadians who are going to be receiving these benefits.

“We’ve pointed out to the government that the vast majority of small businesses have been ordered to keep their doors closed, ordered not to receive customers, and those small businesses will need some kind of assistance that when the health component of the crisis is over, that there’s actually stores and shops and restaurants for people to work at,” Scheer said.  

‘Once in a generation challenge’

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to climb Canada-wide, Trudeau addressed the nation in what’s become a daily appointment outside his residence.

“We’re facing a once in a generation challenge, and on top of that, you can’t do any of the things that keep you feeling good,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau is nearing the end of his 14-day self-isolation at Rideau Cottage, after his wife became one of the more than 3,200 people in Canada who have contracted the virus.

The prime minister said Sophie feels “much better” and he is still not experiencing any symptoms of the virus.

An equal number of Canadians who have tested positive for COVID-19 contracted the virus within their communities and from travel, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam announced on Tuesday. She called this a "fundamental shift" in the transmission of the disease within Canada.

Trudeau said approximately 10,000 people are getting tested each day in Canada, and that he is set to get the latest modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada today on the evolution of the virus.

In an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic, every province and territory has declared some form of public health crisis or state of emergency and officials continue to urge Canadians to stay at home as much as possible.

Mandatory self-isolation for travellers imposed

While the Canadian border is closed to non-essential travel from the United States and the remaining international flights are being funnelled through four airports with enhanced screening, the federal government is continuing to work with airlines to bring home Canadians who are stuck abroad.

As of midnight Wednesday, all non-essential travellers returning home to Canada must go into mandatory self-isolation for 14 days, according to new measures being enacted under the Quarantine Act.