OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will unveil a C$27 billion ($19 billion) aid package on Wednesday to help overcome the effects of a worsening coronavirus outbreak that Ottawa says could last for months, a government source said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will make an announcement at 9 am Eastern Time (1300 GMT) and then give the stage to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, said the source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.
News of the aid package was first reported by the Globe and Mail. Reuters revealed last week that Ottawa was considering aid worth up to C$20 billion.
Morneau will unveil increased payments for people eligible for unemployment insurance and child benefits, and will push back deadlines for filing taxes, said the source, adding Ottawa was not yet ready to unveil support for major airlines such as Air Canada and WestJet.
Earlier on Tuesday Trudeau had pledged financial support for people affected by the outbreak and said he was considering invoking a rarely-used emergency act to restrict the movement of people and goods.
The death toll in Canada doubled to eight with three more deaths in British Columbia (B.C.) and the first in Ontario. There have been nearly 600 infections nationwide.
“We’re going to be flowing income supports to millions of Canadians,” Trudeau said in an interview with 680 News radio.
“Everyone who can stay home should stay home,” Trudeau said, “to prevent our medical system from getting overloaded”.
LNG Canada, which is building a liquefied natural gas export terminal in British Columbia, said it was reducing staffing at the site by half.
Trudeau told reporters he was examining whether to invoke the rarely-used 1988 Emergencies Act, which would allow Ottawa to override provinces and restrict the movement of people and goods.
He spoke after Ontario declared a state of emergency, banned gatherings of more than 50 people and ordered the closure of bars and restaurants. Ontario Premier Doug Ford committed C$300 million to boost the healthcare system.
British Columbia and Alberta were among the provinces that declared states of emergency. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the declaration allows health authorities to ensure adequate staffing levels, for example, by cancelling scheduled vacations.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said using the Emergencies Act was “a measure of last resort ... We would never introduce it without careful consultation with the provinces”.
Ottawa announced on Monday the closure of borders to foreign citizens, excluding U.S. citizens. The province of British Columbia wants the ban imposed on Americans as well.
“We’ll work very closely with B.C. and I understand their concerns,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Trudeau spoke to reporters in front of his home, where he has been in quarantine since his wife tested positive for the new coronavirus last week.
Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren, additional reporting by Amran Abocar and Moira Warburton in Toronto, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Dan Grebler, Tom Brown, Grant McCool & Shri Navaratnam