Canada to give income support, mulls emergency measures to slow coronavirus

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said Canada would provide financial support to people affected by the coronavirus outbreak and also mused about imposing emergency measures to restrict the movement of people and goods.

The death toll rose to five after Ontario, the hardest hit of Canada’s 10 provinces, reported its first death. There have been more than 440 infections nationwide.

“We’re going to be flowing income supports to millions of Canadians,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an interview with 680 News radio. Details of the measures will be outlined on Wednesday, he said.

Direct support for people who do not qualify for unemployment benefits and money for businesses that keep people on the payroll even if they stay home are among the possible measures, Trudeau said.

In the meantime, “everyone who can stay home should stay home,” he said, “to prevent our medical system from getting overloaded” during a crisis that could last months.

Trudeau later told reporters he was closely examining whether to invoke the rarely-used 1988 Emergencies Act, which would allow Ottawa to override the provinces and restrict the movement of people and goods.

He spoke after Ontario declared a state of emergency, banned gatherings of more than 50 people and ordered the closure of bars and restaurants. Ontario Premier Doug Ford committed C$300 million to boost the province’s healthcare system.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said using the Emergencies Act was “a measure of last resort … we would never introduce it without careful consultation with the provinces”.

Ottawa announced on Monday the closure of borders to foreign citizens, excluding U.S. citizens. The province of British Columbia, which lies north of Washington, one of the worst-hit states, wants the ban imposed on Americans as well.

“We’ll work very closely with B.C. and I understand their concerns. We are quite prepared to take measures, as we demonstrated yesterday,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Trudeau spoke to reporters in front of his home, where he has been in quarantine since his wife tested positive for the new coronavirus last week.

Other measures to help Canadians could include greater access to credit for businesses, help for those struggling with mortgages, an increase to child care benefits, and more support for low-income families. People will also be given more time to file their tax returns, he said.

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