Canada doubles value of coronavirus stimulus package, promises cash, loan delays

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada has almost doubled the value of an aid package to help people and businesses deal with losses from the coronavirus outbreak, with Ottawa handing out more money than forecast, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Wednesday.

The package is now worth C$52 billion ($36.62 billion), up from an initial C$27 billion outlined last week, he told reporters.

“That is a significant change because of the scale and the significance for people of these benefits,” Morneau told a news conference.

More than a million people have signed up for unemployment benefits in the last week as the crisis deepened.

The package, which Parliament approved earlier in the day, also includes an additional C$55 billion in the form of tax deferrals.

“Canada is taking a very … appropriate but also significant approach to how we’re responding to the incredible challenge that we’re facing,” said Morneau.

A total of 3,290 Canadians have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 30 have died.

Morneau said additional measures would be unveiled “in coming days,” with expectations for aid to the struggling airline and energy sectors.

The aid package will give people affected by the outbreak C$2,000 a month and delay student loan repayments, among other measures to boost the economy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

A new portal will be set up by April 6, for people who have lost jobs or are unable to work, to apply for the monthly payments, which will run for four months.

“We are hopeful that the system will be up and running by April 6 and the checks and direct deposits will be flowing days after that,” Trudeau told reporters outside his house.

The plan also delays student loan payments for three months.

Trudeau said Canada was testing 10,000 people a day for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, and Canada was ramping up production of emergency medical equipment and medication.

Officials ordered returning travelers to obey a mandatory 14-day quarantine or face fines and criminal charges.

Parliament passed the bill after almost a day of political wrangling. Legislators backed the measures after the Liberal government agreed to remove proposals that would have given Ottawa emergency spending powers without parliamentary approval until the end of 2021.

The modified bill caps Ottawa’s emergency spending power at six months. It also says the House of Commons finance committee – which is controlled by opposition legislators – can probe government spending and force Parliament back in 48 hours if it thinks abuses are occurring.

Trudeau’s Liberals only have a minority in the House of Commons and rely on other parties to govern.

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