Canada begins staggered lifting of pandemic lockdown

Ottawa (AFP)

Canada began a staggered loosening of pandemic restrictions on Monday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged vigilance and baby steps to avoid a COVID-19 resurgence.

The Atlantic coast province of New Brunswick, after seeing no new cases in just over a week, was first to relax social distancing rules, starting with the opening of parks and beaches.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured on March 29, 2020, stressed the need for a gradual and coordinated approach
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured on March 29, 2020, stressed the need for a gradual and coordinated approach Dave Chan AFP/File

Saskatchewan is set to allow businesses to reopen next week.

And Ontario and Quebec, which recorded the most coronavirus cases, largely at nursing homes, unveiled tentative schedules for reopening their economies.

“Different provinces and territories will be able to move at a different pace,” Trudeau told a daily briefing.

He stressed the need for a gradual and coordinated approach “to make sure we do this very carefully, based on absolutely the best scientific advice.”

“If we get this wrong, everything we have done, everything we have sacrificed over the past many weeks, could have been in vain,” he warned.

Federal guidelines for reopening of businesses include ramping up testing for the coronavirus and ensuring there is sufficient healthcare capacity “to handle a possible surge” in cases.

The provinces, however, are responsible for setting their own conditions for lifting restrictions.

Trudeau said he has “tremendous confidence” in each province’s plan.

– ‘Life must go on’ –

“Life must go on,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault told a news conference.

He announced that primary schools and daycares outside of hard-hit Montreal would be the first to reopen in the province on May 11 “if and only if” the situation does not worsen.

Legault stressed “prudence” in the eventual “gradual” reopening of businesses.

The government of Ontario, meanwhile, unveiled a framework for getting the province back on its feet, but gave no specific timeline.

“This is a roadmap, not a calendar,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who over the weekend admonished protestors demanding a swift end to the lockdown as “a bunch of yahoos.”

“I fully understand people are itching to get back to work,” he said on Monday. “Hang in there, we will get to that point.

“What we don’t want to do is be premature and open the economy up too early and then (the virus) comes back.”

Ontario started to see a decline in new cases over the past three days.

Its rate of infections must continue to fall over the next two to four weeks before some businesses will be allowed to reopen in a first phase of rules easing.

People will also be allowed to gather in small groups in parks or for funerals, for example.

Service industries, as well as additional office and retail workplaces would follow as conditions improve.

– Wait for vaccine –

Canadians, said Trudeau, need to “stay vigilant every step of the way” until there is an effective treatment or vaccine.

The country should brace for a resurgence of cases in the fall and not expect a return “to normal” anytime soon, he said.

“Historians remember from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic that the spring was pretty bad,” Trudeau said. “But the fall was much worse.”

The coming months, the prime minister said, will see a “careful reopening in certain sectors of the economy and certain things being allowed as people try to get back to something a little more like normal.”

“Normal is something that is a long way off for all of us,” he added. “And if we want life to get back to the way it was exactly before, it won’t.”

As of Monday, there were 48,229 coronavirus cases in Canada, including 2,781 deaths.

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