March 16, 2020 / 5:35 PM / 5 months ago

'You can run a G7 country from home': Canada's Trudeau relies on phone lines and Lego

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in quarantine since his wife tested positive for the coronavirus last week, is pulling the levers of power from an old brick mansion with a stockpile of Legos to help keep his three kids busy.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with G7 leaders during a teleconference while under self-isolation, due to his wife Sophie Gregoire testing positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), in his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 16, 2020. Prime Minister's Office/Handout via REUTERS

Canada has recorded more than 300 cases and one death. With the outbreak accelerating, Trudeau drafted measures to ramp up the battle against the virus from his ground-floor study. To maintain social distancing, he held a press conference in his garden with reporters lobbing questions from afar.

Trudeau has been forced to chair cabinet meetings by teleconference and field calls with world leaders from the 22-room Rideau Cottage, a 150-year-old house on the wooded grounds of the governor general’s residence near downtown Ottawa.

“You can run a G7 country from home,” a senior government official who has participated in calls with the prime minister told Reuters.

As schools close and more people are working from home, Trudeau’s situation is a snapshot of what is yet to come for many, perhaps even for other world leaders. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s wife has also tested positive.

On Friday when Trudeau emerged from his front door to speak to the media, promise a major stimulus package and encourage Canadians returning from abroad to isolate themselves, he had formatted and printed his remarks from his desktop computer, the source said.

Being in quarantine was “an inconvenience and somewhat frustrating,” Trudeau said: “We’re all social beings after all. But we have to do this.”

Trudeau, who said he has displayed no symptoms so far, does have help with logistics. His office has a switchboard that patches through important phone calls, including the two he has had with U.S. President Donald Trump since isolating himself.

“He’s often not in his office when he fields calls. He could be traveling or anywhere, and those calls get patched in,” the source said.

The quarantine began on Wednesday when Trudeau’s wife, Sophie, came down with a fever after returning from a speaking engagement in London. Trudeau said he has displayed no symptoms so far.

With the kids forced to stay home, Trudeau “arranged for a very large box of Legos to be safely delivered to the house,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told Reuters.

She said Trudeau was “setting an example” by self-isolating, adding that it was “the right thing to do to protect your health, but also to protect the health of all the other Canadians.”

Cut off from the official photographers who normally document the prime minister’s day, his daughter Ella-Grace, 11, stepped in to help out.

The prime minister tweeted a picture she snapped of her father working in his study, phone at his ear and computer perched on an old, wooden desk.

Referring to the children, Freeland said: “For them, it’s a little bit of exposure really to the intensity of the job of the prime minister at a time like this.”

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Dan Grebler

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