An already grim economic and employment toll looked set to worsen Thursday as authorities pondered further tightening restrictions on people and businesses aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said too many Canadians were still going out needlessly, potentially spreading the coronavirus and putting health-care workers at unnecessary risk. At the same time, Trudeau said he was leaning on restrictions provinces have put in place rather than issuing a mandatory national stay-at-home order.
“We’re not quite yet at that point,” Trudeau said.
The virus has now infected more than 10,000 Canadians and cost 130 their lives. Ontario on Thursday reported 16 more deaths bringing its total to 53, while a hard-hit nursing home in Bobcaygeon — possibly the site of the worst outbreak in the province — reported two new fatalities. Sixteen residents have died and at least 24 staff members have been infected.
Quebec saw its caseload rise about 20 per cent since Wednesday, with three more deaths. COVID-19 has now killed at least 36 people in the province and another 26 in British Columbia. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said almost half of Canada’s COVID deaths have occurred in long term care homes.
Experts say keeping a physical distance from others, along with frequent hand washing, is the most effective way of easing pressure on an increasingly stressed health-care system, a message Trudeau underlined.
Governments everywhere have shut non-essential businesses and public facilities such as parks, beaches and playgrounds. All have repeatedly urged people to stay home except for essential outings and warned further restrictions were otherwise in the cards.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said police should be less tolerant with those refusing to follow COVID-19 rules. He warned of fines of up to $6,000.
In Toronto, Mayor John Tory was to talk to the police chief and city staff to discuss increased enforcement of social distancing — ensuring people avoid groups and stay at least two metres apart. Police have issued 14 tickets, a spokeswoman said. Other jurisdictions have similarly arrested or fined alleged scofflaws.
The restrictions have taken a hideous toll on employment — more than one million Canadians are already reported as having applied for jobless benefits. The Liberal government was expected to detail how it would help the jobless weather the crisis — an effort expected ultimately to cost more than $250 billion.
A survey by Restaurants Canada, which speaks for the industry, indicated 800,000 jobs have been lost to the pandemic. Almost one in 10 restaurants have closed and nearly one in five expected to close if conditions didn’t improve in a month, the survey suggested.
The multibillions the government planned to inject into the economy to mitigate the devastation was the subject of reports from Parliament’s spending watchdog on Thursday. Just three federal measures — aimed at helping low-income earners, families and seniors — will cost more than $8 billion, budget officer Yves Giroux said.
However, an analysis from the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimated 862,000 unemployed workers —about one-third of the total — aren’t eligible for aid.
“We’re looking at ways to help everyone in Canada that needs it,” Trudeau said. “We know there are many vulnerable people.”
Federal New Democrats have been pushing for relief for Canadians unable to pay their rent, while the Bloc wants promised wage-subsidy money to flow more quickly than the six weeks the Liberal government has said it would take.
As many as 300,000 Canadians were expected to inquire about the government’s $2,000-a-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit each day. On Monday, the Canada Revenue Agency will begin delivering the federal benefits.
The agency normally has between 3,000 and 4,000 employees at call centres across the country for tax season, but more than 1,000 others have volunteered to bolster those numbers, many working from home.
– with files from Canadian Press reporters across the country.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press