Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled an $82 billion dollar aid package Wednesday (March 18) to help Canadians impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Of that amount, $27 billion will go towards supporting Canadian workers and businesses, the PM said (a $55-billion in tax deferrals to help businesses survive the economic downturn).
“No matter who you are or what you do, this is a time where you should be focused on your health…Not whether you’re going to lose your job,” Trudeau said, speaking to reporters in Ottawa from his residence, where he is currently in self-isolation.
Trudeau said financial help will be distributed through a combination of direct supports for workers and businesses and tax deferrals.
As for when money would be distributed, Trudeau said it would take “a few weeks” as all parties work together on processing the plan.
The news comes at a time when many in Canada’s travel industry – from travel agents to air and cruise companies to tour operators – face rising economic challenges due to the strain COVID-19 has had on tourism.
“If your business faces a cash crunch, we will help you bridge to better times,” Trudeau said, noting that his government is working to secure $10 billion in credit via financial crown corporations through the Business Credit Availably Program.
The PM outlined an Emergency Care Benefit, which will provide money every two weeks for workers who have to stay home due to COVID-19.
This applies to people who fall ill, who are placed in quarantine, who have to self-isolate, or have to take care of a family member, for example.
He also announced an Emergency Support Benefit, which will support Canadians who are self-employed or have to close shop because of COVID-19.
Trudeau also moved the tax payment deadline to August, for those who owe money.
Additional funding will support those with student loans (a six-month interest-free moratorium was announced), as well as support for the homeless and those fleeing domestic or gender-based violence.
The aid represents more than three per cent of Canada’s GDP, Trudeau said.
“No matter where you live, what you do, who you are, you will get the support you need during this time,” Trudeau said. “In Canada, public health should never hinge on financial considerations.”
Canada-U.S. border bans non-essential travel
The Prime Minister also confirmed what U.S. President Donald Trump revealed on his Twitter early Wednesday morning – that the U.S.-Canada border will ban all non-essential travel to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
That means travellers will no longer be allowed to cross the border for recreation and tourism.
“This is something we need to forward on to protect Canadians,” Trudeau told reporters.
Trudeau was quick to confirm that “essential travel” – such as the flow of food, fuel and medicine, for example – would not be interrupted by the new rule.
“It is critical that we preserve supply chains between countries,” Trudeau said. “Canadians and Americans cross the border every day to do essential work or for other urgent reasons. That will not be impacted.”
Although the PM didn't say exactly when the new restriction would begin, he said it would happen “very quickly” and “very soon.”
The border restrictions will last “as long as we feel they need to last,” Trudeau noted.
The PM was vague on exactly how the order would be enforced, but said that the Canada Border Services Agency “has adequate resources” to meet the challenge of ensuring non-essential travellers do not cross.
Trudeau introduced “increasingly aggressive steps” to halt the spread of COVID-19 in Canada on Monday.
This included closing Canada's border to most non-citizens, mandating airlines to ban travellers who present symptoms of COVID-19 from boarding and limiting overseas flights to four international airports in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.
Domestic flights and flights from the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean and Saint Pierre and Miquelon are not impacted by this measure, the PM noted.
As of Tuesday night, Canada had 598 confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19.
As to whether or not Ottawa will restrict or limit domestic travel in Canada, Trudeau said he is “still looking at options.”
“We’re not taking any options off the table,” he said.
Stay tuned as PAX brings you ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak.
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