April 6 Afternoon: Federal Cabinet Address


Dr. Tam provided an update on the number of cases in Canada: 15822 cases and 293 deaths. She says the most concerning news right now are the new outbreaks in hospitals and hearing of young people being hospitalized and people as young as in their 20’s dying from the disease. She shares this information as a reminder that this is a critical illness that may strike anyone at any age. She also gave an update on testing that Canada has now completed over 339 000 tests. She points to cautious optimism from British Columbia as they recorded a lower number of cases than last week showing that collective action can slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Tam also provided an update on wearing non-medical masks as a precaution against pre symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission. This new information comes in light of new studies done as scientific knowledge evolves throughout the pandemic. However, Dr. Tam urges that the supply of medical masks must be preserved for healthcare workers.

Minister Duclos echoed the Prime Minister’s announcements regarding the opening of CERB applications for which 300 000 people have already applied, the processing of 2.5 million EI claims which is currently underway and the announcement from the banking system that they will lower interest rates on credit cards.

Opening Remarks:

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland opened the presser today with a reminder to Canadians to continue practicing physical distancing unless you are doing essential work. She acknowledged that many Canadians are struggling to make ends meet but shares that applications for the Candian Emergency Response Benefit are now open. To make sure the system works, dates are staggered based on birth month.


Question: on the newly announced wage subsidy and CERB and some comments on those who may be left out of these support measures.

Duclos: this is an emergency situation that requires emergency measures. We’ve been able to meet essential and urgent needs with respect to support for workers and companies. The CERB covers many workers and includes workers who normally would not be eligible when they are unemployed such as freelance workers. This means all workers who are normally not eligible for EI etc. So the benefit already expands beyond the traditional eligibility. Nonetheless there are still holes in the coverage of the CERB. The Minister of Finance and the Minister of employment are examining particular categories: a) people whose hours have been reduced, b) people earning less than what the CERB offers and c) students. There are other supports for students such as a 6 month moratorium on the repayment of student loans, they won’t need to make payments over the next 6 months and interest for this period has been cancelled. Secondly, the CERB is helping students who have earned more than $5000 in a year. Thirdly, the wage subsidy of 75%, this will lead employers to hire and rehire workers, including students. 

Question: about collaborating with provinces on procurement from the US.

Freeland: we are working closely with provinces and the US to ensure all equipment purchased from the US will arrive in Canada. We are continuing to work to resolve this situation that is so important for our country. All provinces are working hard and the federal government too. Of course, the situation in Ontario is one we know very well and we have good communication with the Premier and we will continue to work hard to ensure people who do essential work do have
the necessary equipment.

Question: can you expand on your productive talks with the US and provide more details?

Freeland: we believe the flow of goods between the two countries must continue. We made that point in repeated conversations over the weekend. We feel as though we are being heard and we are working towards a definitive resolution. I should also add that I spoke with the global CEO of 3M who is doing a great job and the company is taking a responsible position. I commend the company for its constructive approach.

Question: Do you have details on which countries are facing delays and which countries are missing shipments?

Freeland: It is currently a “wild west” when buying medical supplies right now. This is a global pandemic. Every country is doing their best in a fierce competition for medical equipment. We are working hard in the international marketplace. It’s hard and this is why I am grateful for all the Canadian manufacturers stepping up to make equipment domestically in Canada. But it is absolutely very tough right now.

Question: Can you confirm that your government is seeking an exemption from the US order?

Freeland: I can confirm that Canada’s position is that we must continue to have a steady flow of medical equipment with the US. I’d like to highlight for Canadians, that this is a reciprocal relationship. Canada also exports equipment and we have healthcare workers that do extraordinary work in the US. So it’s a reciprocal relationship. It’s a win-win situation that we have right now and we will continue to have conversations and we are hopeful that it will be quickly possible to definitively solve this situation.

Question: Did you obtain any assurances from 3M when you spoke with them?

Freeland: I don’t agree with the premise in the question. It’s not necessarily up to a company to ignore a country’s laws. It’s up to a country to resolve its issue. As for 3M, we had a constructive conservation. They have been very responsible. We discussed what 3M needs from the American administration to continue exporting their products. We also spoke about the mutual dependence of our two countries.

Question: Can you elaborate on your conversation with Premier Ford?

Freeland: I will let Premier Ford speak to the province-specific purchase. We did speak about the difficulties of getting these masks across the border and I spoke to the Premier and assured him that the Federal government will do anything to help get that shipment across the border.

Question: for Dr. Tam, why didn’t you say weeks ago that we should wear masks?

Dr. Tam: the evidence about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic came to light recently. The evidence before was weak. But now that these new, recent studies have come to light, you have to take the evolution of the evidence as rapidly as possible. We still don’t know exactly how important transmission is at those specific stages. So, these are very recent studies on this particular virus and we are rapidly trying to integrate these latest findings. Also medical masks must be preserved for health workers.

Question: Can you be clear for Canadians when you say non-medical masks?

Dr. Tam: We have some suggestions on our website and we are talking about things that are readily available in people’s homes. We will also communicate what people should not wear too. 

Question: How many test kits do we have? And how many test kits do we need moving forward?

Dr. Tam: Canada is testing at a high rate compared to other countries. It’s not as simple as just kit numbers. There are other pieces throughout the pipeline, there are many different components. Like all supplies, the global supply chains are very difficult. We are looking at made in Canada solutions and rapid test kits. Some of the initiatives are to change the testing capacity at labs. It is not just a matter of counting kits. We are also working on looking at the antibody tests.

Question: So why aren’t we doing more testing? Is it due to lack of resources/tests?

Dr. Tam: through our FPT discussions, we have guidance provided. We want supplies to be utilized in the most effective way possible. That does mean, testing in the most high-risk situations and vulnerable communities such as indigenous communities.

Question: how much of the population is asymptomatic?

Dr. Tam: it’s a good question that will require further testing down the line but right now it’s about containing the outbreak.

Question: about the now confirmed cases in indigenous communities- curious about funding for indigenous community supports?

Hajdu: I spoke with relevant chiefs about the case in Northern ontario. The person is selfisolating. It is more difficult to practice social distancing and hand washing with limited facilities. First nations communities have their own pandemic plans.

Question: In communities with an overcrowding problem, what options are available? Is there a plan to remove people from these communities?

Hajdu: Dr. Wong, Public Health Officer with ISC has been working with communities. There is always the option to provide separate living, but those options have to be balanced with the risks such as taking people away from their community. These are the kinds of considerations being considered by communities as they work through their plans.

You can watch the full press release here. 

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