Alistair MacGregor column: Responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic

This crisis has shown us just how many Canadians struggle every day to pay the bills

With the threat of COVID-19 sweeping the globe, and 44 confirmed cases on Vancouver Island at the time of writing, there is much uncertainty and anxiety being felt within our communities. I wanted to take this opportunity to not only share some of what we have learned from other countries dealing with the pandemic and best advice from public health officials about how to “flatten the curve” on its spread, but also the measures my colleagues and I have asked the federal government to take to ease the economic burden on working people and families during this difficult time.

According to the World Health Organization, the new coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2 by its scientific name, is a respiratory virus transmitted primarily through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets from the nose. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, headache and high fever — all similar to common influenza. It can take between two to 10 days to develop symptoms. If you or someone you know has these symptoms, please first check with the B.C. COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool at https://covid19.thrive.health and follow the advice by the BC Ministry of Health.

Practising social distancing during this time will be vitally important to stemming the spread of the virus. Wherever possible, refrain from leaving the home and avoid large gatherings until health officials advise otherwise. This will be a crucial component to ensuring those most at risk — our seniors and those with compromised immune systems — are not put in harm’s way.

In these uncertain times, Canadians need their federal government to step up and meet evolving needs. The NDP was pleased to see announcements by the Government of Canada the week of March 16 responding to recommendations we had made, including: suspending the collection of monthly payments for the Canada Student Loan Program without penalty or additional interest, extending the tax filing and payment deadlines to the Canada Revenue Agency, extending income supports to all Canadians, and to ensuring increased funding for Indigenous communities.

This crisis has shown us just how many Canadians struggle every day to pay the bills, how many are working without benefits, and how thin parts of our social safety net really are. We will need to find permanent solutions to these systemic problems so that everyone can enjoy an adequate standard of living. My New Democrat colleagues and I will focus on these challenges in the months ahead. We will also be pushing for a wider deferral on payments like rent, loans, and utilities, and a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in these uncertain financial times.

I encourage all residents to take the necessary precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, while avoiding panic. Essential staples have been flying off of grocery store shelves across the country due to bulk panic-buying and hoarding. We have to remember that we are all in this together.

Although my constituency offices are currently closed for public walk-ins, my staff and I continue to be available by phone and email to help with any federal issues, especially for programs and services to help against economic hardship during this difficult time. Stay safe and healthy, and please take care of one another.

Alistair MacGregor is the NDP Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, and the NDP Critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food, Rural Economic Development, and Deputy Critic for Justice

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