Quebec COVID-19 cases climb to 1013: Premier urges calm

By Matthew McCully with files from Canadian Press

“I understand people are stressed. It’s normal,” explained Premier Francois Legault during yesterday’s briefing about COVID-19 in the province.
Quebec now has 1,013 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but no additional deaths to report yesterday, with the provincial tally steady at four. Legault said 67 people are hospitalized, including 31 in intensive care.
Around 2,500 people are awaiting test results while 12,200 have received negative tests, the premier added.
“All of this is temporary,” Legault said, explaining that the priority for the next three weeks is to avoid the spread of the virus.
Legault had a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers of other provinces to discuss the situation.
Three main subjects were discussed, according to the premier.
The first and most important was medical equipment, Legault said, and making sure the provinces have the protective gear and equipment necessary in the coming weeks, especially for testing.
According to Legault, the province has enough medical supplies for the next few weeks, but the COVID-19 situation is likely to last longer. He said he is counting on suppliers to follow through on orders to make sure the province has everything it needs to protect front line workers and help those infected with the virus.
The second issue discussed was Employment Insurance benefits for people who have lost their jobs or independent workers who are unable to work at the moment.
According to Legault, the cheques will be available April 6. Legault added that the province is aware that there are Quebecers who require assistance before the cheques will become available, with rent being due on April 1 and families to feed. “We’re working on that,” Legault said.
The third topic of discussion during the meeting with the PM was the federal law for emergency measures. Ï think it’s premature to implement the law,” Legault said, explaining that right now Quebec needs flexibility. “The situation is different from one province to another,” Legault said.
“I know we’re going through difficult times. This is stressful for businesses, workers, for the elderly and families. All this is temporary,” Legault said, reminding citizens to follow social distancing guidelines and keep contact to a minimum.
Going out for food runs and essentials is still fine, Legault said, and going for a walk is ok, as long as people maintain a distance of two metres.
For the moment, any seniors living in a residence will only be allowed to go out with supervision. That rule was put in place for the peace of mind of other residents, worried someone could go out shopping and then become infected and bring the virus back to the home to a vulnerable population.
During question period, Legault was asked if police will enforce the closure of non-essential business and citizens who do not follow social distancing protocols. Legault replied, “We’re not there yet,” relying on the good faith of the public.
Another reporter asked how many of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec involved health care workers.
Legault said there were four, but that all four of those cases could be traced back to travel. He did point out later that community transmission is now happening in certain parts of Quebec including Montreal and the Estrie region.
When asked about the economic impact putting the province on pause would have, Legault recognized it may be difficult for some businesses to get back on their feet in April after being closed. The priority in the short term, Legault said, is to help individuals. At a later date the province will look at the long term economic impact.
One reporter asked if there would be special hazard pay made available for health care and essential workers. Legault said he is in discussion with unions on the matter.
“Health workers need to feel supported,” Legault said, stressing the importance of staying home and following instructions so front line workers’ efforts are not in vain.
Legault added that Jean Boulet, Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity is in the process of setting up a website to help match organizations with volunteers who are able to lend a hand.

Published in the Wednesday, March 25 edition of The Record.

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