'Historic times,' Trudeau rallies industry to aid in COVID-19 fight
OTTAWA -- After a series of major announcements, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau closed out the week unveiling a new plan to mobilize businesses and manufacturers to help fight the spread of COVID-19 and boost the health sector’s stockpile of life-saving supplies.
He also said the government is working with airlines to help those stranded abroad to come home, and made official the Canada-U.S. border closure, effective at midnight.
In taking these next steps, Trudeau is also calling on Canadians to take physical distancing and self-isolation seriously, but said he is not ruling out taking stricter lockdown measures if it comes to that.
“We are looking at all possible different measures,” Trudeau said, emphasizing that nothing is off the table in the COVID-19 fight and thanking the millions of Canadians who are heeding advice and helping keep themselves, their families, and the frontline workers safe.
The manufacturing plan is meant to help industry accelerate ways to pivot their production lines to help at this critical time by mass-supplying various life-saving medical supplies, considered by some doctors who have called for more supplies being freed up, a "war-like effort.”
"There are people who are talking about historical echoes, whether it was war time or the Great Depression, we're focused on what we need to do right now,” Trudeau said.
"These are historic times in which we need to do everything we can to support Canadians and mobilize all our efforts in smart ways."
This industry effort includes building up the manufacturing capacity and reprioritizing existing innovation and research programs to prioritize the COVID-19 fight through the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada.
Talks had been ongoing between the federal government and industry representatives about how companies can pivot to producing equipment like ventilators, face masks, and sanitizer in anticipation that the outbreak worsens in Canada and hospitals need additional supplies.
But also, the government is working on agreements with industry to produce more diagnostic testing products and other disease tracking technology.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said there has been no specific request for ventilators yet and there is enough supply for the current level of demand. But 550 more ventilators have been ordered, as Health Minister Patty Hajdu indicated on Friday that she anticipates that the surge is coming.
An additional 11.3 million N95 masks have been ordered, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Friday, and the masks are in the process of being delivered to the front-line health staff who rely on them to protect themselves and their patients. Additional personal protective gear is also on its way, she said.
The federal government has also been in talks with the provinces and territories to get a clear picture of where there is a gap in their resources.
Specifically calling out to businesses who are wondering how they can help, Trudeau said that Canadians need them and the government wants to work with them to maximize their impact, and output.
“Canada has never faced a situation like this and we will face through it together,” Trudeau said from self-isolation, capping a week of morning addresses from Rideau Cottage, to a population that’s largely been working from home or in self-isolation on the advice of public health officials.
Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said that he’s been in contact with businesses looking to help daily, and now it’s on them to increase domestic supply.
“This country’s industrial policy will be refocused for the time being to prioritize the fight against COVID-19,” Bains said.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) are applauding the industry mobilization plan.
“Canadian manufacturers want to play a critical role in supporting Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. They can and want to contribute to flattening the outbreak curve,” said CME President and CEO Dennis Darby, in a statement.
“We are pleased the government is adopting CME’s recommendation of helping to scale-up businesses that are already part of the supply chain, which will enable a rapid response from businesses,” said Darby.
It has been a week of morning addresses from Rideau Cottage, to a population that’s largely been working from home or in self-isolation on the advice of public health officials pleading for people to take the risk seriously.
Working with airlines
Trudeau said the government is in talks with Canadian airlines, to help bring back the thousands of Canadians who are having difficult times getting back to Canada given the restrictions in the countries they are currently in.
The prime minister said more is coming in terms of flights to get stranded Canadians back home in the coming days. The first flight will be repatriating Canadians stuck in Morocco this weekend.
While early on in the outbreak, the government chartered flights to repatriate Canadians, for weeks those abroad have been told to take a commercial flight home while they still could, though others remain stuck on cruise ships that have been unable to dock.
According to Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne’s office, Global Affairs Canada is working to identify tourist hotspots where special flights can be made available, but said the situation with Canadians stuck on cruise ships remains fluid.
Though as Trudeau has previously cautioned, not everyone is going to be able to make it home right away. Those people are being offered up to $5,000 in a loan to cover their basic needs in the meantime.
Champagne’s office said that there has been record numbers of calls coming in to the 24/7 consular assistance line [613-996-8885], and even more emails flooding departmental inboxes.
Canada-U.S. border closing at midnight
Trudeau also announced that Canada-U.S. border will close to non-essential travel as of midnight Friday. That means, come Saturday, tourists and visitors will not be allowed in.
The prime minister said there will also new protocols for irregular migrants, who will now be turned around if they appear at the border, rather than allowing them in and isolating them, as the plan had been earlier this week.
EI claims skyrocket
Parliamentarians are set to reconvene early next week to pass legislation allowing financial assistance to flow to Canadian families and businesses who are already feeling the economic impacts of the pandemic.
Trudeau said the public service has been inundated with applications, at far higher rates than usual. He said the government has received over 500,000 Employment Insurance applications so far this week, and staff is working around the clock to process these requests for assistance.
The federal government has committed to temporarily boosting the Canada Child Benefit, and is introducing an emergency care benefit of up to $900 bi-weekly for 15 weeks for those who have to stay home and don't have paid sick leave, such as those who can't access EI and are sick, or who are taking care of a child or someone who is sick. These are in addition to several other aid measures Canadians and businesses may be eligible for, including relaxing tax and loan repayment deadlines.
As of Friday evening there were more than 1,070 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Canada.