Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will speak with premiers later Thursday to work out a co-ordinated approach to get critical medical supplies to communities that need them across the country in the face of an expected surge in COVID-19 cases.
The call with provincial and territorial leaders, set for 5:30 p.m. ET, comes as public health agencies across Canada scramble to prepare for a sharp rise in infected patients as they face shortages of ventilators, masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to cope with the emergency.
Trudeau will hold a daily briefing at 11:15 a.m. ET. CBC News has special coverage beginning at 11 a.m. ET. Watch it here.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced a $50-million fund Wednesday to help businesses retool their operations to produce medical equipment and personal protective gear for front-line workers. He described the process as “a race against time.”
Political leaders and public health officials have been ramping up their messaging for Canadians to stay home, self-isolate if they’ve been at risk of exposure, and to practise physical distancing when out in public for essential purposes.
The goal is to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in order to ease the burden on health-care systems and equipment.
On Wednesday, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said scenario planning is being done, but the immediate focus of attention is on “getting this first wave under control.”
“Let’s just say, just to add, that any planning scenario has us potentially overwhelming our health-care system,” she said.
“As I’ve said, part of the exercise is so that we free up some of the hospital resources and ICUs, purchasing extra ventilators. But the really difficult message to Canadians is that on a whole range of scenarios, this health system isn’t well designed to cope with it if we don’t do something about it now.”
As the government works with the provinces and territories on the health services front, it is also pushing out a massive emergency aid package to cope with the financial fallout of COVID-19.
On Thursday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced details of a $71 billion wage subsidy program, which will cover 75 per cent of wages for all non-publicly funded businesses, charities and non-profits to keep people on the payroll.
The opposition Conservatives and business groups have said the anticipated delivery time frame of up to six weeks is too long and could mean more layoffs and business closures.
Morneau will be taking questions on that program from MPs on the finance committee at 2 p.m. ET. The committee will be meeting via teleconference.
The government has also announced a $24 billion income support program, which will give Canadians who are out of work due to the pandemic about $2,000 a month. That program is set to open for applications on April 6, and will be managed by the Canada Revenue Agency.
Trudeau said Thursday he will recall Parliament to pass new legislation for the expanded benefits.