Federal cabinet shifts retreat focus to COVID-19

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) — The main focus of the federal cabinet retreat in Ottawa has shifted due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

The prime minister said Monday the priority for the two-day retreat will be how to address a possible second wave in the fall rather than dealing with plans to rebuild the economy.

Justin Trudeau said as cases continue to rise, Canadians can’t let their guards down.

“We are not out of the woods. We need to continue to remain vigilant. We need to be there for each other, but keeping our distances, washing our hands, wearing masks an awful lot,” he said.

“The last thing anyone wants is to go into this fall in a lockdown similar to this spring, and the way we can prevent that is by remaining vigilant.”

Cabinet is receiving presentations from the chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, as well as from the co-chairs of the task forces on COVID-19 vaccines and immunity.

“Our challenge now is to guard against the fatigue that can lead us to relax these personal precautions,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement as provinces reported nearly 500 new cases on Sunday.

As of Monday, there were 137,249 confirmed cases in Canada.

“At the same time, as we shift more of our activities indoors, we will need to increase our awareness of COVID-19 risk factors in reopened settings.”

The shift in focus could indicate a different tone for next week’s throne speech, which was initially set to focus on economic recovery.

Supports for Canadians and the economy will be discussed during the retreat, with topics expected to include child care, long-term care, employment insurance and a guaranteed basic income.

The retreat comes as Parliament is set to resume with a throne speech on Sept. 23, which Trudeau has promised will outline “a detailed vision for the future and a plan to keep Canadians safe while we rebuild a stronger Canada that works for everyone.”

READ ALSO: Cabinet retreat to confront challenge of limiting damage from ongoing pandemic

The speech itself is now expected to focus more on getting through the pandemic than how to rebuild after it’s over, with details on the longer-term recovery measures not revealed until an economic statement later in the fall.

The prime minister last week warned Canadians are “going to have to learn how to continue to live with COVID-19 for many, many more months,” while Tam warned that failing to control its spread could result in another lockdown.

“Another important reason to keep the infection rate low in the community is to prevent spread into these and other public settings that could necessitate targeted restrictions to control transmission where the virus is surging,” she said in her statement.

The government is operating on the assumption that the global fight against the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will continue for at least two more years, and that rebuilding the economy then will depend on protecting it now.

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