Federal government extends credit and deadline to farmers, funds more COVID research

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau -- Herald file photo.

The federal government announced funding for farmers and medical researchers, as well as a national advertising campaign as it continues to work to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19 and deal with its impacts on the economy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued his morning media briefings Monday, speaking to reporters outside Rideau Cottage where he remains in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for the illness currently linked to a global pandemic.

He encouraged Canadians to continue listening to the advice of public health professionals which has remained fairly constant not just in individual cities and provinces, but at a national and even global level — stay at least 2 metres from other people, don’t go out unless absolutely necessary, avoid groups of people and do your part to stop the spread of this disease.

“A lot of people have now been stuck at home for a week or more because of COVID-19,” Trudeau said to begin his comments.

‘If that is starting to take a toll, it’s understandable. However, we can’t afford to stop now. Social distancing, physical distancing is the single best way to keep the people around you safe.”

Those who choose to ignore that advice are putting themselves and others at risk, the PM said.

He said the federal government is looking at whether it needs to start enforcing the rules like provinces are doing. In Saskatchewan, failing to self-isolate after returning from abroad is now illegal and can end in a fine or jail time.

For now, though, the federal focus is on education, not arrests.

That campaign is going out on all platforms in both official languages across Canada.

“You’ll see faces you know and trust getting the message out from our health care workers,” Trudeau said.

“Not having heard this message is not an excuse. Listening is your duty and staying home is your way to serve. Every day, more and more people are stepping up to heed this call.”

Today, Trudeau said, the House of Commons will reconvene to pass emergency legislation to provide support to workers. Some reports indicate broad tax measures will be included. The Conservatives said they will not support new tax powers, but will get behind any spending to help businesses stay afloat and people keep a reliable source of income.

The conservatives called for more robust spending measures. While other countries have promised wage subsidies as high as 75 or 80 per cent, Canada promised just 10. The conservatives said this isn’t nearly enough.

Not all MPs will head to the House for today’s votes.

Instead, a smaller pool will pass the $82 billion bailout plan. Only 20 MPs are needed for a quorum.

Trudeau in conversation with premiers

Leaders of Canada’s provinces and territories spoke by phone with Trudeau Monday. Those conversations, the prime minister said, were to coordinate what’s needed to expand medical equipment including safety devices and COVID-19 tests to ensure everyone has what’s needed.

The prime minister also hoped to coordinate measures and messages across the country, and to discuss the emergency measures act. While the federal government has not yet taken that step, it is considering a state of emergency.

That would give it increased powers, including the ability to override provincial directives and take control of provincial jurisdiction.

Trudeau said his government will continue to support provinces and cities “in their decision-making.

“We will continue to coordinate and make sure they have the backing of the federal government where necessary.”

FCC granting loans, deferring portions of other lending

Monday’s press conference came with the news that Farm Credit Canada (FCC) would be receiving an additional $5 billion in lending capacity.

The announcement came at the daily noon hour briefing that brings together other members of Trudeau’s Cabinet.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced the measures being taken to help food producers navigate uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

She said the additional FCC credit would allow the agency to help farm and food business owners on a case-by-case basis with potential deferrals fo the principal or interest portions of loans, or to access additional credit.

She also announces that anyone with an advanced payments program loan due on or before April 30 will see a stay of default, allowing them six more months to repay the loan.

The measure represents $173 million in deferred loans.

“For farmers and food processors facing tight margins in a cash crunch, the two measures will help keep money in their pocket when they need it the most,” Bibeau said.

“I am in regular contact with the industry and (provincial and territorial) counterparts. I want to thank sincerely everyone in the food supply chain .. who goes to work every day so the rest of us can have food to eat. During these times, we see just how critical they are to our country.”

Government supporting multiple COVID-19 research projects

The federal government continued to announce supports for researchers working to study the spread and potential treatments for COVID-19 Monday.

Canada has announced $275 million for coronavirus research and medical countermeasures. It will be used to help projects already underway and so university researchers and others can respond. It will also help to ensure a domestic supply of potential vaccines when the time comes.

OF the funding, $192 million will go towards new projects prioritized under a new Strategic Innovation Fund COVID-19 stream to deliver direct support to Canadian companies.

Two examples cited Monday include AbCellera, a biotech company based in Vancouver and Medicago from Quebec City.

AbCellera is looking for naturally-produced antibodies in recovered COVID-19 patients that can be sued for treatment and prevention. They are working to manufacture and distribute a treatment, with the hope to begin clinical trials by July.

Medicago builds plant-based vaccines and therapeutics. They have found available plant-based vaccine candidate, and are at the pre-clinical testing phase. The funding will allow them to move to clinical trials and then shift to production.

Another funding recipient is the International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) at the University of Saskatchewan.

InterVac was the first facility in Canada to receive clearance to harvest a sample of VCOVID-19 from the World Health Organization. They’ve been working since January and received $23 million to expand and renovate its animal vaccine centre to produce human vaccines to meet early production needs when a vaccine is ready. The researchers have previously worked on other strains of coronaviruses.

Other funding will head to the National Research Council of Canada’s facility in Montreal to test and scale-up vaccine candidates for industrial production. The funding will ensure that when vaccines are ready, they can be produced and made available more quickly.

The last project announced Monday was support for a Toronto-based digital health firm called BlueDot, which produced a first-of-its-kind early warning technology for infectious diseases, and detected the spread of COVID-19 before government agencies were able to.

It will work with the Government of Canada to model and monitor the spread of COVID-19 and inform decision-making as the situation evolves.

“Our country’s research community is among the strongest in the world,” said Canada’s Innovation Miniter, Navdeep Bains.

He cited Canada’s previous work, sequencing the SARS virus and developing the Ebola vaccine.

Trudeau also praised the work of researchers on containing and developing treatments for the virus.

He said he’s asking all of Canada’s post-secondary institutions to do what they can, inducing 3D printing medical equipment.

‘We need all hands on deck,” the prime minister said, acknowledging many institutions have already stepped up.

“We are providing $192 million to directly support vaccine production and development in Canada. We are investing in a long-term solution to COVID-19 right here at home,” he said.

“Once there are promising options, Canada needs the capacity to mass-produce as quickly as possible.

“These are critical steps forward. But we have to remember that vaccines… will take months to develop and test. We need to work to mitigate the impacts of this virus.”

That’s why, Trudeau and chief medical health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, social distancing is so important to flatten the curve.

In just the three months since the virus was identified to the WHO, “Canada has stepped upon a wide range of research,” Tam said.

‘We should be proud that Canadian researchers are part of the WHO (initiative) to gather data on the most promising therapies. Let’s keep up the momentum and let’s get this right Everyone who is practicing social distancing is giving researchers around the world the chance to work on novel therapies.”