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Expect to continue social distancing for many more weeks, PM says as MPs debate virus relief bill

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Mar 24, 2020 at 10:18 am PDT

FILE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media during a news conference about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Wednesday March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Summary

How long people are to continue practicing social distancing is not yet known

Proceedings suspended as house leaders negotiate aspects of the bill

More flights scheduled to bring Canadians home

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – Social and physical distancing orders will remain in place for many more weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday before the House of Commons reconvened to pass emergency legislation on COVID-19.

Trudeau said he wouldn’t be present for the historic vote, as he remains in self-isolation since his wife tested positive for COVID-19.

“This legislation will help ensure that Canadians are getting the support they need during these challenging times,” he said.

“Our priority remains keeping Canadians alive and healthy,” he added.

How long people are to continue practicing social distancing is not yet known.

In the House

Thirty-two members of parliament returned to the House of Commons on Tuesday for a one-day session to approve the $82-billion COVID-19 financial aid package put forward by the federal government.

The Liberals were criticized by the opposition Conservatives for a provision in the draft emergency bill that would have given the federal government the ability to raise or lower taxes and borrow and spend money without having to go through a vote in parliament. Those powers would have lasted until the end of next year, but the draft plan was altered and that provision removed prior to Tuesday’s vote.

“We recognize that this pandemic is moving extremely quickly and it is an exceptional situation that requires extreme flexibility and rapidity of response by governments to be able to help Canada and react to a situation we’ve seen is moving quickly every single day,” Trudeau said.

“We have an opposition that is doing its job of making sure that we’re taking the right steps the right way, and that’s why we’ve been working on drafting the right legislation up until the last minute.”

But after MPs took their seats in the House of Commons, the proceedings were suspended at the call of the chair, as house leaders were still negotiating aspects of the bill.

“Passing this bill today means getting you the support you deserve as soon as possible,” Trudeau said prior.

“When you’re trying to help get money out to people, speed is of the essence, especially in an unprecedented situation like this one.”

He maintained he believes in Canada’s democratic institutions.

“All of us in parliament must work together, and Canadians need to see us doing just that.”

Trudeau also said to expect more information regarding support Canadians in coming days.

Travel

On the topic of bringing home Canadians from abroad, Trudeau said more flights have been scheduled, including one from Peru. More from Panama, Tunisia and Ukraine are also being scheduled.

 

Testing

Trudeau also said the federal government has been increasing lab capabilities and testing for COVID-19, but recognizes there have been backlogs in some jurisdictions. The government is moving to accelerate those processes and obtain results more quickly, he added.

“Testing is not just about giving people peace of mind, it’s an essential element for the public health response that will keep us all safe.”

Health care

Trudeau recognized and thanked the many health care workers keeping Canadians safe and reiterated the government’s message to all to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The duration of this crisis will be determined by the choices we make right now,” Trudeau added.

“If our doctors and nurses have COVID-19, they won’t be able to help you,” he said.

“So if you want things to get back to normal, do your part – stay home.”

If people don’t follow self-isolation guidelines, Trudeau said the federal government will consider more stringent measures.

Emergency measures

He said he’s talked to all the premiers and the majority do not support enacting the federal Emergencies Act.

“It’s not something the premiers thought was necessary at this time,” as most provinces have declared emergencies themselves.

“The federal emergencies act is a last resort. But as I keep saying, all options are on the table,” Trudeau said.

“If people do not comply with expert advice and government guidelines, we will have to take additional steps.”