By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada committed C$1 billion ($728 million) to fight the spread of the coronavirus in the country and is ready to do more, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday as his government took its first economic measures to contain a worsening outbreak.
The country has recorded 93 confirmed cases of the highly contagious coronavirus and one death. On Wednesday, Canada’s capital, Ottawa, reported its first case, and the Quebec provincial government canceled the World Figure Skating Championships scheduled for Montreal next week.
“We are already prepared to do more if need be,” Trudeau told reporters. “We’ll be there to support businesses. We will be there to support Canadians through this difficult time.”
The aim is to slow the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible to ensure the healthcare system is not overburdened, he added.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that between 30% and 70% of Canadians could become infected with the coronavirus. Chief Medical Officer Theresa Tam said that 6% of those cases would need intensive care.
The Liberal government’s measures were announced after the Ontario city of Sudbury said a man in his 50s tested positive for the respiratory virus after attending a major mining convention last week in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city.
Trudeau himself spoke at the conference. On Wednesday, he said he had not yet been tested for the coronavirus.
Melanie Joly, the minister responsible for tourism, recommended that families stay in Canada during March school breaks, saying they should “discover their big and beautiful country.”
More economic measures may come in the budget for the new fiscal year, which Finance Minister Bill Morneau said would be presented on March 30. On Tuesday, Joly said Ottawa was looking at how it could mitigate the impact of the outbreak on airlines.
Half of the money in the fund set up by Trudeau’s government will go to provincial healthcare systems to improve access to testing and monitoring, and for equipment such as surgical masks and face shields. Millions of face masks stockpiled by Ontario more than 15 years ago have expired, Reuters reported on Monday.
The government will also make it easier for sick workers to claim unemployment insurance, while enhancing its work-sharing program. Some C$275 million ($199.5 million) will go to research on medical countermeasures, including vaccines.
Ottawa also said it would boost investment in federal lending agencies to ease company access to credit.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren: additonal reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)