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Freeland asks provinces, territories for COVID-19 readiness plans

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Monday March 9, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The federal government is asking the provinces and territories for their plans to deal with COVID-19 ahead of a meeting on Friday between the premiers and the prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland wrote the provinces and territories asking them to inform the federal government of their state of readiness and any shortages they’re facing ahead of the first ministers meeting in Ottawa.

The letter came as Canada reported its first death on Monday from COVID-19.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, says the man died at the Lynn Valley Care Centre on Sunday night, and his symptoms were detected between Thursday and early Friday.

She says the man was in his 80s with a number of underlying health conditions.

Friday’s first ministers meeting will include discussions on the potential impact of the spreading virus on the country’s health-care system and its economy.

In her letter, Freeland says the federal government is already leading a bulk procurement of personal protective equipment.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the Canadian economy can weather the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus.

The country’s finances are healthy enough to help individuals and businesses deal with the fallout, Morneau says, without providing details of any plans or when the federal budget will be released.

He also would not reveal whether he expects the deficit to be bigger than previously projected, given the sharp decline in oil prices and the hit to financial markets on Monday, saying only that Ottawa is in a position to respond to challenges like COVID-19, and the budget is only part of the response.

The government is being urged to ease access to federal sick leave benefits, along with tax credits and other breaks, to help workers who can’t afford to stay home when sick, as well as to help small businesses that might not have the cash flow to manage the effects of the outbreak.

Canada has at least 78 cases of the respiratory illness: 32 in British Columbia, 35 in Ontario, seven in Alberta and four in Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2020.

The Canadian Press