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Ottawa commits $1B to tackle coronavirus

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $1B economic support package today to help the economy cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, including people who are isolating themselves.

“I know that people across the country are worried,” he said in a news conference in Ottawa.

The money is intended to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and to be ready for the virus’s effects on everyone including the economy, and small businesses.

“2020 has been marked by significant economic uncertainty, from rail blockades, cancelled resource projects to the implications of COVID-19,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), in a statement.

“Many small firms are concerned about both the economic and human resources issues and asking lots of questions.”

The one-week waiting period for EI benefits will also be waived for everyone. Applicants will not be required to prove they have COVID-19. Ottawa is also working on options for people who self-quarantine but don’t qualify for EI.

“CFIB is pleased by today’s federal announcement that employees who must stay home can now access Employment Insurance without a one-week waiting period,” said Kelly.

“This will help both workers and employers, including many small firms that are not able to offer any sick time or enough to last during a period of quarantine.”

The Prime Minister says businesses facing a cash crunch will be able to access credit.

“No employee should be worried about losing their jobs if they have to self-isolate,” he said. “No business should have to lay anyone off. If more is needed we will do it.”

When asked about the economic impact the Prime Minister said: “obviously there are slowdowns in the tourism sector.”

He also recognized that oil-producing provinces have been particularly hard-hit in the face of falling crude prices.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he’s in constant contact with banks. “They aren’t seeing any challenges around credit,” he said.

Provinces and territories will receive $500 million for critical health care systems. Trudeau is scheduled to meet with his provincial counterparts tomorrow.

The support package also includes research funding that jumps from $27 million announced last week to $275 million. The rest of the money is earmarked for public education, increased testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory, ongoing support for preparedness in First Nations and Inuit communities, and protective supplies, like masks and surgical gowns.

Ottawa also says the upcoming federal budget could include stimulus spending to offset the virus’ effects.

“We commend the federal government’s responsible and targeted package of measures to protect Canadians from COVID-19 and to address the economic consequences of the current health emergency,” said Goldy Hyder, President and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, in a statement.

“More may be required going forward, but at this point it makes sense to hold off on major economic stimulus measures until the extent of the impact is better understood.”

Hyder said the Business Council of Canada will keep the federal government up to speed on the virus’s economic implications.

Meanwhile, Dan Kelly is urging Ottawa to keep a number of options on the table.

“In particular, in light of plans to reduce payroll-based taxes in the US, CFIB calls on the federal and provincial governments to put planned increases in CPP/QPP premiums on hold.” he said.

There are currently 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, and one death.

More than 100,000 people around the world have contracted the virus, leading to many countries imposing restrictions on public gatherings and quarantines.

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains.

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