Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging Canadians to be vigilant in following public health guidelines as COVID-19 cases climb across the country.
Speaking with reporters before a two-day cabinet retreat in Ottawa, Trudeau warned that as the number of new infections rises, “we are not out of the woods” when it comes to the health crisis. He said people need to “be there for each other” by maintaining physical distancing, washing hands and wearing masks.
“The last thing anyone wants is to go into this fall in a lockdown similar to this spring, and the way we do that is by remaining vigilant,” he said.
The cabinet retreat comes ahead of the Sept. 23 return of Parliament. Trudeau said the government’s focus is on keeping Canadians safe through the COVID-19 crisis by keeping transmission under control and not overloading the health care system.
In an interview with CBC Radio’s The Current, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the current spread of the novel coronavirus is different from the first wave.
‘Slow and steady growth’: Dr. Tam
“What we’re experiencing right now is quite different from the initial escalation and that wave going up. What we have seen in the last weeks has been a slow but steady growth in cases, in particular the four big provinces, B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec,” she told host Matt Galloway.
“So it’s not like this is a very rapid sort of escalation or the exponential growth that we had at the start of the first wave. At the moment, that means that we can do everything that we can to continue these sort of learned, effective public health measures personally, but also as a community, to keep things at a manageable level.”
In the country’s most populous province of Ontario, the average number of new COVID-19 infections has doubled in just three weeks. Ontario’s daily count has exceeded 200 on each of the past three days, something that hasn’t happened since early June. On Monday, the province reported 313 new cases.
Tam said the rise in cases coincides with the coming flu season, which typically sends many Canadians to emergency rooms across the country. While the public health measures in place for COVID-19 might help reduce the number of flu cases, she urged people to get the flu vaccine.
“Getting the flu shot will help protect yourself, your community and the health system from getting overwhelmed,” she said.
Acknowledging there is some fatigue with public health measures, Tam said that with the rise in cases affecting young Canadians aged 20-29, officials must step up outreach and communications efforts targeting that age group.
Tam is one of several public health and scientific experts who will be briefing cabinet at the retreat. Chief science adviser Mona Nemer also will be making a presentation to ministers.
Cabinet crafting plan for economic recovery
The Liberal cabinet retreat, which is bringing most ministers together in person, will be followed by a news conference on Wednesday.
The parliamentary session will begin with a speech from the throne, which will lay out the government’s plan for an economic recovery from the massive disruption caused by the global pandemic.
Sources have told CBC News that the throne speech could promise investments in housing and a long-term overhaul of the employment insurance system.
The government is also expected to signal its intention to make child care more widely available and to launch a green recovery plan, while focusing on the ongoing public health crisis.
The speech from the throne will lead to a confidence vote — which could topple the government and trigger a fall election.
Trudeau prorogued Parliament to reset the government’s agenda, stating that the mandate had been knocked off course by the pandemic. He has said the government wants to come up with an ambitious plan to “build back better” through substantial green recovery efforts.
Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the longer-term plan will promote resilience in the economy and work to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
“The government has said very clearly from the beginning that the focus is on ensuring that we’re supporting Canadians and Canadian businesses through this process,” he said.
“But of course, as we look forward, we have to think about the priorities and those priorities have to be around job creation, economic recovery, but they also have to be about the crises that we know are looming on the horizon, and that is the crisis of climate change and the global decline of biodiversity.”
Justice Minister David Lametti said the priority for the government is to tackle the twin challenges of controlling COVID-19 while planning the economic recovery.
“We have to map out where we’re going to take the country,” he said. “Obviously, we’re listening to Canadians and we’re going to do, we hope, some very positive things as we come out of COVID.”
It’s the first time the Liberal cabinet has met in person since the pandemic struck. Lametti said ministers have been told the gathering is “safe and compliant.”