Feds announce help for farmers as COVID-19 death toll passes 4,000

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $262 million in aid to Canada’s farming community Tuesday and a buy back program for the food industry that is producing more than consumers need.

Trudeau said $77 million will go to supporting food processors including slaughterhouses which have been hit hard by COVID-19 including Cargill in Alberta where 900 of the plant’s 2,000 workers have tested positive for the virus. One worker has died. Their union has asked the courts to stop work at the plant.

“This is money that they can use to purchase personal protection equipment for workers, adapt to health protocols and support other social distancing measures,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister also announced $125 million for cattle and hog producers who have more animals than the marketplace needs because of the closure of restaurants.

“For many farmers, this crisis means that they have to keep animals for longer periods of time and that can be expensive. So with this funding, we’re giving extra help to beef and pork producers so that they can adapt to this crisis,” he said.

At the same time, Trudeau announced a buy back program for surplus food.

“The government will buy large quantities of certain products at risk of going to waste like, say, potatoes or poultry, and redistribute them to organizations addressing food and security,” said Trudeau.

The government said it will work with food banks across the country to organize the food purchases the federal government makes.

“We’ll try to figure, you know, how we can meet these surpluses with the capacity that the food banks can absorb,” said Marie Claude Bibeau, minister of Agriculture. “And what they need to be able to benefit from this food so there might be issues around transportation, there might be issues around packaging for example.”

Tuesday also marked a grim fatality milestone as the country’s two largest provinces each reported a jump in novel coronavirus-related deaths, although the overall increase in new cases was relatively modest. Canada has now seen 62,000 cases in every province and territory except Nunavut.

Although Ontario reported no new nursing home outbreaks, the number of long-term care deaths in the province passed 1,000, with another 31 residents dying. In all, 61 new deaths were reported, bringing the province’s total to 1,361, according to latest government data.

The country’s hardest-hit province, Quebec, also reported 118 new deaths, bringing its total to 2,398. Premier Francois Legault said about 11,200 health-care workers were off the job because of illness, vulnerability to COVID-19 infection, or fear of going to work.

After more than two weeks without any increase, New Brunswick recorded its first new case on Tuesday.

Despite the increases in cases and deaths, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the signs were encouraging.

“Overall we are seeing a continual slowing down of the epidemic itself,” Tam said.

New data Tuesday showed almost 7.5 million people have received emergency federal aid that started flowing a month ago. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides up to $2,000 per month to anyone who lost a job, earns under $1,000, or whose job prospects have been affected by the pandemic.

Across the country, provinces have been taking tentative steps toward returning to normalcy by easing some of the stiff anti-pandemic stay-home and business closure directives. For example, Quebec has allowed retail stores outside Montreal to reopen, while seasonal businesses such as garden centres have restarted in Ontario. Other provinces are allowing some health services and limited outdoor activities to resume.

Most Canadians, it would appear, are largely happy with the pace of reopening the economy. A new poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies suggests between 60 and 70 per cent of people supported the slow easing of measures, while 16 to 30 per cent indicated wanting to see things move even more slowly.

One consequence of the stay-home measures has been a sharp increase in people dying in fires, Ontario’s fire marshal said. To date this year, fires have killed 51 people, a 65 per cent increase from last year. While it’s not clear how many deaths might have been due to the increase in home cooking, the office did say unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires.

-With files from the Canadian Press

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