Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks from behind a podium bearing the hyperlink to a federal government website about the coronavirus disease during a press conference about COVID-19 in front of his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, on Sunday, March 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

COVID-19 cases march higher despite restrictions and threats of punishment

Parliament on Wednesday approved the flow of $52 billion in direct financial aid to Canadians

Amid tightening restrictions aimed at curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s unrelenting climb in cases continued Thursday with the reported number of people known to be infected approaching 3,500, with 35 of those fatal.

The pandemic, which is taxing the health-care system, has idled large swaths of the work force in a matter of days. Claims for employment insurance benefits have skyrocketed.

To ease the financial devastation, governments across the country have opened the money taps. They’ve also urged creditors to go easy on those suddenly unable to make rent or other payments.

The grim situation is being seen around the globe, with close to half-a-million people identified as infected and more than 22,000 deaths reported.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was slated to hold discussions via video conference on Thursday with leaders of the world’s biggest economies about the global impact of the pandemic.

Parliament on Wednesday approved the flow of $52 billion in direct financial aid to Canadians and another $55 billion in tax deferrals. Despite the extraordinary all-party effort to get the legislation passed, it could be weeks before needy recipients start getting cash in their hands.

COVID-19 is highly contagious and can strike anyone, although it is older people and those with less optimum health who are most at risk of succumbing to the flu-like illness, experts say. People can also infect others without showing any signs themselves.

Government and health authorities upped their pleas for people to keep their distance from others as one of the most effective ways to dampen the coronavirus spread, with fines or jail threatened for those violating rules to self-isolate or avoid larger gatherings.

“Practice physical distancing by keeping two metres from others at all times,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in a series of tweets. “For those who have no symptoms, it’s OK to walk in the fresh air but the two-metre-rule still applies, always, everywhere.”

In addition, Tam said, physical distancing must be paired with frequent hand-washing and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.

Activists pressed their concerns about the difficulties facing the homeless. The closure of coffee shops and drop-in centres has only increased the logistical difficulty for those without homes to wash their hands and keep their distances from others, they said.

For those returning to Canada, a mandatory 14-day quarantine is now in effect, with potentially stiff penalties in place for non-compliance. Scofflaws face a maximum $750,000 in fines or six months in jail, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.

READ MORE: Canada now mandating all returning travellers to quarantine: Freeland

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press


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