OTTAWA — Canadians shouldn’t expect to return to normal life any time soon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday as he promised to expand federal aid to more workers suffering economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.
Trudeau said distancing measures designed to limit the spread off COVID-19 will likely remain in place for weeks or even months.
He said there will be a better idea of how long the crisis will last once models and predictions are developed, but success will depend on how fully Canadians practice distancing habits such as staying home.
“To stay at home, to continue this period of isolation and distance is the best way to get out as quickly as possible, but certainly it will be a case of several weeks, perhaps several months,” he said in his daily update from Ottawa.
Trudeau has himself been working from home since his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 13.
He said that while he expects to return to the office in the days to come, he will mainly keep working from home because “that’s what we ask of everyone.”
Trudeau said more than 300,000 people successfully applied for emergency financial aid in the first few hours after the federal government opened the process on Monday. The benefit offers $500 weekly payments for workers who have lost their income due to the pandemic.
The prime minister suggested the 16-week program would be expanded to offer help for people whose hours have been reduced but not eliminated, and he promised help for those who earn less than the benefit provides.
Almost 16,000 people in Canada had been infected and 293 had died as of Monday at noon, according to Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s top public health officer.
Tam said there is increasing evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by infected people who have not started to show symptoms or by those who never fall sick.
As a result, public health authorities have concluded that non-medical masks can help prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others in places where physical distancing is difficult.
She said masks worn this way have not been proven to protect the people wearing them, but they don’t exempt wearers from all the other measures they should take against COVID-19, including physical distancing and regular handwashing.
Tam said she was especially concerned with recent outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care homes, which have been reported in several provinces.
Among the worst of those outbreaks is the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., where three more residents died on Sunday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths at the facility to 26.
Tam said that while COVID-19 can be most serious for older people or those with underlying health issues, people in their 20s have also died of the virus, and no age group is immune from its effects.