By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s economic shutdown will last for weeks more to ensure that measures to fight the coronavirus are working, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday, while the country’s death toll from the outbreak rose more than 12%.
Trudeau also told a daily briefing that he would have more to say shortly about a promised aid package for the oil and gas industry, which has been hard hit. He did not give details.
Authorities across Canada have ordered a shutdown of non-essential businesses, throwing millions of people out of work. The jobless rate is set to soar to 25% from around 6% before the crisis struck.
“Everyone is very interested to know when things are going to get back to normal, when they’ll be able to go back to work … it is going to be weeks still. We recognize that it is going to be important to get our economy going and we will have to do it in phases,” Trudeau said.
“We are having ongoing discussions with the provinces … about how we are going to reopen the economy. It’s just that it’s going to be a while still.”
As if to underline the extent of the challenge, the province of Ontario on Tuesday extended a shutdown for another 28 days. It had been due to expire on April 23.
Public health officials said 823 people had died of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, up from 734 on Monday. The number of positive diagnoses rose to 26,163 from 24,804.
The officials said they were particularly worried about residences for the elderly, where around half the deaths have occurred. Ontario and Quebec – the two most-populous provinces – promised extra resources.
“We’re dealing with a wildfire in our long-term care homes,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told a briefing, saying 14% of all residences had recorded cases.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said his province was short about 1,250 workers in the long-term care network.
“We are deploying more professionals from the hospitals to the residences, but we’re still lacking staff. I’m asking everybody available … to come forward,” he told a briefing.
Trudeau said Ottawa was prepared to help pay the salaries of workers in long-term care facilities.
He also said authorities would have to be cautious about fully lifting the restrictions on the economy until a vaccine had been developed.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)