Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a blunt message to Canadians who continue to gather in groups and appear to think they are “invincible” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You’re not. Enough is enough. Go home and stay home,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa Monday, noting images that surfaced over the weekend of Canadians egregiously flouting demands to practice social distancing.
“This is what we all need to be doing and we’re going to make sure this happens whether by educating people more on the risks or by enforcing the rules, if that is needed. Nothing that could help is off the table.”
Trudeau said Canadians who choose to meet up with others or head to crowded places need to think about the other people they are putting at serious risk.
“Your elderly relative who’s in a seniors home or your friend with a pre-existing condition. Our nurses and doctors on the front lines, our workers stocking shelves at a grocery store,” he said. “They need you to make the right choices, they need you to do your part.”
It’s “extremely concerning” to see photos of people enjoying sunshine in large groups, ignoring recommendations from public health experts to avoid mass gatherings, he said.
“We need to slow and stop the spread of this virus if we are going to come through strongly as a country without losing too many of our loved ones.”
“Listening is your duty and staying home is your way to serve.”
The prime minister announced the federal government will spend $192 million on a “long-term solution,” developing and producing a vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus.
Quebec City-based Medicago and AbCellera, a Vancouver-based biotech company, will receive the money for vaccine development. AbCellera has partnered with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, to develop a vaccine with a goal of proceeding to clinical trials for July.
The National Research Council of Canada’s Human Health Therapeutics facility in Montreal will also receive $15 million to update equipment to be able to mass produce a viable vaccine and therapies when they are available.
Trudeau said the vaccines won’t be ready overnight and will take “months to develop and test.”
Feds launch new COVID-19 ad campaign
The prime minister also announced the federal government will roll out a national ad campaign — featuring figures Canadians “know and trust” — to promote social-distancing measures. Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, will be featured as part of a multi-million dollar campaign.
“Not having heard this message won’t be an excuse. We’re reaching everyone,” he said. “Listening is your duty and staying home is your way to serve. Every day there are more and more people who step up and heed this call.”
The prime minister was again asked if it is time for the federal government to use the powers it has under the Emergencies Act, a step that former interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose called to be taken on Sunday.
The legislation, previously known as the War Measures Act, would allow the federal government to, among other things:
- Regulate or prohibit travel to, from, or within any specified area in Canada;
- Evacuate people from certain areas and remove their personal property;
- Order any person to provide the essential services they are competent to provide;
- Set up emergency shelters and hospitals;
- Regulate the distribution of essential goods, services, and resources;
- Impose fines of up to $5,000 or imprisonment of up to five years for failing to comply with emergency orders.
The prime minister noted that provinces and territories have brought in their own states of emergency, and none have asked him to take the extraordinary step.
But he reiterated that the government is reviewing all options.
Trudeau is expected to speak to premiers later Monday to discuss ways the provinces and territories can keep people at home to reduce the risk of community spread. He said political leaders would “rather not” escalate government measures, but the instances of people ignoring public health advice can’t be ignored.
Trudeau noted that the Quarantine Act gives the feds “significant tools,” as well. The act gives federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu the power to “establish a quarantine station at any place in Canada,” and fine or jail travellers who disobey orders.
Hajdu said the government was looking at using stronger tools for people who are just returning to the country, such as “snowbirds” or March break vacationers, to ensure they immediately self-quarantine upon arrival.
“It is very, very important that people take this seriously.”
She repeated it is essential people go home directly, not stopping to see their family or visit the grocery store. Ministers also said they are exploring ways to arrange transportation to get people from the airport and to their homes directly, and safely.
“We are looking at ways that we can even provide transportation for people that don’t have capacity to transport themselves, in a way that is private. It is very, very important that people take this seriously,” Hajdu said.
Over the weekend, Nova Scotia became the latest province to declare a state of emergency in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. The province has limited social gatherings to a maximum of five people and police have been authorized to enforce rules related to self-isolation and social distancing.
On Monday, Ontario and Quebec both ordered the shutdown of all non-essential businesses.
Asked about the federal government possibly invoking emergency powers, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the situation in every province is different.
“We want to make sure that we still have the authority to make the decisions that we require for the health and the economy for each province,” Ford said.
COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Symptoms include coughing, fever, and mild to severe, possibly life-threatening pneumonia in both lungs. Researchers around the world are currently working to develop vaccines for the new disease.
There were at least 1,474 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada as of midday Monday, according to the chief public health officer. Twenty deaths have been reported in relation to the disease.
The disease is spread through respiratory droplets from an infected individual. Public health officials have urged Canadian to stay home and to only reserve outings for essential trips, such as getting groceries.
With a file from The Canadian Press and Althia Raj
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