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'We need to continue to remain vigilant,' Trudeau says amid rising COVID-19 cases

Last Updated Sep 14, 2020 at 12:08 pm MDT

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians against relaxing their guard against COVID-19 as he and his cabinet kicked off two days of closed-door meetings to discuss the pandemic and how to lead the country through a second wave.

The past several weeks have seen a resurgence in COVID-19 across Canada after a summer lull, which Trudeau said is a reminder that Canada is “not out of the woods yet.”

“We need to continue to remain vigilant,” he said Monday before launching the cabinet retreat in a Global Affairs Canada office building in Ottawa. “The last thing anyone wants is to go into this fall in a lockdown similar to this spring, and the way we can prevent that is by remaining vigilant.”

It is in this context that the retreat is being held. Originally focused on building a post-pandemic economy, ministers are now expected to spend significant time mulling the immediate challenge of a second wave.

“We need to get through this in order to be able to talk about next steps,” Trudeau said.

“So a lot of what we’re going to be doing during this retreat will be talking about how we continue to keep COVID under control, continue to make sure that Canadians are safe, that we’re not overloading our health-care system.”

Underlining that point, ministers are expected to hear presentations from Tam and the co-chairs of two federal task forces: one created to advise the government on measures to support developing a COVID-19 vaccine and the other on COVID-19 immunity.

The retreat comes as Parliament is set to resume with a throne speech on Sept. 23, which Trudeau has promised will outline “a detailed vision for the future and a plan to keep Canadians safe while we rebuild a stronger Canada that works for everyone.”

The speech itself is now expected to focus more on getting through the pandemic than how to rebuild after it’s over, with details on the longer-term recovery measures not revealed until an economic statement later in the fall.

The prime minister last week warned Canadians are “going to have to learn how to continue to live with COVID-19 for many, many more months,” while Tam warned that failing to control its spread could result in another lockdown.

“Another important reason to keep the infection rate low in the community is to prevent spread into these and other public settings that could necessitate targeted restrictions to control transmission where the virus is surging,” she said in her statement.

The government is operating on the assumption that the global fight against the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will continue for at least two more years, and that rebuilding the economy then will depend on protecting it now.

To that end, insiders, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter, laid out three priorities that will be included in the throne speech.

Those are measures to protect Canadians’ health and avoid another national lockdown; the economic supports needed to keep Canadians financially afloat while the pandemic continues; and longer-term measures to eventually rebuild an economy.

In particular, the Liberals are expected to promise more funding for health care, including long-term care homes, along with affordable housing and child care to help parents, especially women, get back to and stay at work.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press