Canadian coronavirus evening update: Premiers’ call focuses on Emergencies Act

Ottawa health officials consider analyzing cellphone data to see if people are self-isolating

Black Press Media is updating national news files throughout the day. This file, from The Canadian Press, was posted at 8:30 p.m., Monday, March 23.

Trudeau: Premiers’ call focused on Emergencies Act

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a conference call with provincial and territorial leaders this evening.

A federal source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the call publicly, says there was a lengthy discussion about whether the federal government should invoke the Emergencies Act to give itself extraordinary powers to deal with the health crisis.

Justice Minister David Lametti joined the call to explain what the act allows the federal government to do and what the impact could be on provincial measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

While some premiers want the act invoked, others are concerned that it could impede their efforts to responds to unique circumstances in their provinces.

The federal government continues to consider the Emergencies Act to be a “last resort.”

First ministers also discussed the various measures that the federal, provincial and territorial governments are taking to curb the spread of the virus, and offer financial help to individuals and businesses.

They also talked about potential shortages of critical medical supplies, such as swabs, gowns, masks and ventilators and what Ottawa can do to fill the gaps.

B.C.: $5 billion earmarked for war against virus

British Columbia politicians unanimously passed legislation today to spend $5 billion to help the province fight the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the legislature’s three parties, including the minority New Democrats, Opposition Liberals and Greens, also passed new employment standards legislation to ensure workers don’t lose their jobs due to the pandemic.

The B.C. legislature has 87 members but the three parties agreed only one dozen members would debate and pass the two bills in a one-day emergency sitting.

MacKay calls for election ASAP for Conservative Party leader

Federal Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay says an election for party leader should be held as soon as possible.

MacKay, a former cabinet minister and early front-runner in the contest, says the party needs a permanent leader sooner rather than later.

Wednesday marks the deadline for contenders to enter the race, with the election currently scheduled for June 27.

MacKay’s call for a shortened campaign comes after two other candidates on the ballot have called for the contest to be postponed so people can focus on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta: Cases climb to 42

Alberta now has 42 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total in the province to 301.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical health officer, says 18 people are in hospital.

She also says 11 of 47 people, many of them physicians, have tested positive for the virus since attending a curling bonspiel in Edmonton earlier this month.

She says some of those doctors returned to work and saw patients before they were notified that they had been exposed.

Ottawa health officials consider using cellphone data to monitor self-isolation

Ottawa’s medical officer of health says the public health authority may use cellphone data to find out whether people really are self-isolating.

Dr. Vera Etches says the agency is trying to get a better handle on whether people are following the advice to stay home and away from others.

She says one way to do that is with polling, but they are also looking at ways to use “electronic data” to see if people are congregating in public spaces or moving about.

Mail delivery halted in St. John’s

Mail delivery has stopped in St. John’s and Mount Pearl in Newfoundland and Labrador after a Canada Post employee tested presumptive positive for COVID-19.

Canada Post says the public health authority in St. John’s confirmed the test.

Employees at Canada Post’s Kenmount Road facility in St. John’s were informed and sent home to await further information.

Mail and parcels will not be delivered today and Canada Post says it will continue to evaluate the situation, with further updates to come.

14 new cases in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is reporting 14 new cases of COVID-19.

That brings the total number of cases in the province to 66.

All but one case has been confirmed; the other remains presumptive.

Fines in PEI for failure to self-isolate

Prince Edward Island has announced stronger measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of Islanders.

Cabinet has empowered the chief public health officer to issue orders under the Public Health Act as needed, including fines to anyone who is not complying with the direction to self-isolate.

There will be a fine of $1,000 for a first offence; $2,000 for a second offence; and $10,000 for a third offence and every offence after that.

Premier Dennis King says the province is at a crucial point in the COVID-19 pandemic and decisions made now will help in the long run.

Nova Scotia wants banks to defer business loan payments

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says his province will push Ottawa to get banks to defer loan payments owed by businesses.

McNeil also says he will tell the prime minister about Nova Scotia companies such as Stanfields and Michelin that would be able to provide more equipment to hospitals and front-line health workers.

B.C.: $1,000 payment for some B.C. workers

The British Columbia government says it will provide a tax-free $1,000 payment to people whose jobs have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers will be a one-time payment for those who receive federal Employment Insurance benefits or the new federal Emergency Care Benefit or Emergency Support Benefit.

It will go to workers who have been laid off, who are sick or quarantined, parents with sick children, parents who stay at home while child-care centres and schools are closed, and those who are caring for other sick family members.

The government says it will continue to provide funding to non-profit agencies and child-care providers, even if they are closed or have had to reduce their hours of operation.

B.C. student loan payments are being frozen for six months.

For businesses, it is also deferring employer health tax payments, delaying a scheduled increase to the provincial carbon tax and cutting the school tax in half.

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