OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers have released “a set of common principles for restarting the Canadian economy,” as the latest federal projections show that in some parts of the country the COVID-19 curve is flattening.

With some provinces beginning to plan and execute their gradual loosening of restrictions, the guidelines include the criteria and measures needed to be in place—without any specific timelines— before steps can be taken to begin easing up on various restrictions and allowing for businesses and schools to reopen.

The joint statement notes that as the first wave of the virus begins to pass, strong measures need to remain in place to continue to contain the spread, but it’s through this “new normal” that aspects of society can slowly start to resume.

Federal, provincial and territorial governments have agreed that in advance of reopening a region needs to demonstrate:

  • the ability to contain COVID-19 transmission to a level the health system can manage, including stabilizing the number of hospitalizations and new cases;
  • that sufficient capacity is in place to test, trace and isolate the virus so when, for example, someone around you tests positive, you will be notified quickly so you can isolate;
  • the health system’s ability to support both COVID-19 and non COVID-19 patients has been expanded, including making sure there is enough medications and supplies to go around;
  • that there are additional protections in place for vulnerable groups, communities, and key populations such as long-term care homes and in jails or shelters;
  • that workplace protocols are in place and are being monitored to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when people do return to their jobs, such as providing personal protective equipment for workers who can’t maintain physical distancing;
  • the easing of restrictions on non-essential travel in a “co-ordinated manner;” to avoid the risk of importing the virus through domestic travel and,
  • seeing to it that communities are able to manage localized outbreaks, including within schools or on public transit.

The statement makes note that because the pandemic’s impact and caseload is different in each province and territory, each region will “take different steps at different times in order to ease restrictions, reflecting the specific circumstances in each jurisdiction.”

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday that case spread has levelled off in several provinces. There is currently no community transmission in Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, or Yukon. And, while Nunavut has yet to report a single COVID-19 case, outbreaks in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta remain the main drivers of the current epidemic growth.

The principles are informed by experiences in other countries that have slowly reopened, according to the joint statement, as well as by medical experts’ advice on how to minimize the risk of another wave to avoid another shutdown.

The agreement also notes that reopening international borders and access to non-Canadian residents “may only happen in later stages,” and will have to take into account the spread of the virus in other countries.

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Health Minister Patty Hajdu was asked whether premiers would have to go back to the drawing board and rework their reopening plans if they aren’t in line with the national guidelines.

In response she said that going forward the principles will inform their decisions, and reemphasized the need for a cohesive approach.

“What we’ve seen from other jurisdictions is that if we don’t have the health and safety fabric strong in each jurisdiction then there is always a risk of resurgence and that is even worse for the economy in the long run,” Hajdu said.

In addition to the terms for getting sectors gradually back to work, the joint statement notes that the need to reinstate public health restrictions will be a decision made based on public health advice, and that continuing cross-border supply chains for supplies including food and personal protective equipment will be necessary. So too will continuing to share information about the virus in each jurisdiction.

“Epidemiological analysis, health care service arrangements, population distribution, geographic considerations, and economic dynamics are some of the factors that might affect decisions on where, when, and how measures are lifted,” the statement reads.

Earlier Tuesday Trudeau said those shared principles on restarting the economy were going to be released “shortly.”

“Let me be clear: these are not the specific measures when you can go back to work or school, when you can see your neighbours or extended family, or friends. This framework will lay out the things that need to happen before taking any next steps. Restarting our economy will be gradual and careful, and will be guided by science,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau said Monday that Canada hit a national record high for the number of new COVID-19 tests administered in a single day, with 26,000 tests conducted—still far from the desired 60,000 per day—and that in the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment, some degree of public health measures will have to remain in place to save the country from having to re-enter what he has previously called “hibernation.”