POLITICS
03/24/2020 13:19 EDT | Updated 18 hours ago

Trudeau, Trump In Sharp Contrast Amid Fight Against Coronavirus

The U.S. president suggested he wants to scale back social-distancing measures to boost the economy.

OTTAWA — U.S. President Donald Trump may be focused on restarting the American economy, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government’s objective is to keep people alive and healthy.

In his daily national address, from outside of his home where he remains in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, contracted COVID-19, the Canadian leader suggested the two neighbouring countries are charting different courses. 

“We are continuing, in Canada, to base our decisions and our recommendations and our guidelines to Canadians on science,” Trudeau said.

“Our priority is keeping Canadians alive and healthy and that is what we will continue to focus on in Canada.”

CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump are shown in a composite image of photos from The Canadian Press.

Trudeau’s words rang in sharp contrast to Trump, who earlier this week tweeted he was giving social-distancing and self-isolation measures, which have shut down businesses across the country, 15 days to work before re-evaluating their impact.

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!,” the president said Sunday. 

In a town hall on Fox News television Tuesday, Trump said he thinks “substantially under one percent” of Americans will get COVID-19.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday said the U.S. has the potential to become the new epicentre of the pandemic due to a large acceleration of infections of the highly contagious respiratory virus. Forty percent of new cases reported worldwide over the past 24 hours were found in the United States.

Some people are going to get sick, the president acknowledged during his television interview, but the current situation is worse, he claimed.

“You’re going to have suicides by the thousands,” Trump said. “You’re going to have instability.”

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Americans will get depressed and that “causes death” and other problems, the president explained. Small business owners don’t want to be locked up at home, they want to be saving their businesses, he said.

Trump, for the second time in two days, compared the novel coronavirus to the flu and said more people would die from sinking the United States into a “massive recession or depression.”

He told Fox he was sure there are doctors who would like to keep the U.S. shut for two years, but he hoped to open the country back to business by Easter, on April 12.

“We have to put our country back to work.”

Many experts have called on political leaders to increase testing, tracing and isolation as means of curbing the spread of COVID-19. A Yale University professor suggested in the New York Times, however, that after two weeks of isolation, those who are sick should remain at home while those who have developed no symptoms should be allowed to return back to work

In an op-ed published Friday, David L. Katz suggested public health efforts should focus on the most vulnerable while other Americans catch and recover from mostly mild infections of the virus. 

Tom Inglesby, director of the John  Hopkins Center for Health Security, tweeted this week that anyone calling for the end to social distancing needs to fully comprehend what will happen to the U.S. if such a step is taken.

“COVID would spread widely, rapidly, terribly, could kill potentially millions in the (year) ahead with huge social and economic impact across the country,” he wrote.

During a press conference on Monday evening, Trump said the flu would likely kill 50,000 Americans this year. “And you look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we’re talking about. That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody, ‘No more driving of cars.’

Trump: ‘Our country wasn’t built to be shut down’

During a press conference on Monday evening, Trump predicted the “hardship” would “end soon.” 

“Normal life will return,” he said. “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this.  It was not built to be shut down.”

Public health officials will use data from across the U.S. to recommend ways that local economies could cautiously resume their activities “at an appropriate time,” Trump said, reading from prepared remarks. 

Vice-President Mike Pence told reporters Monday that Americans were on day eight of the president’s 15-days to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. At the end of next week, Trump said he would make a decision on “which way we want to go, where we want to go, the timing.”

“We’re referring to the timing of the opening — essentially, the opening of our country, because we have it pretty well shut down in order to get rid of this invisible enemy,” he said.

It will be “a lot sooner,” Trump said, “than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. A lot sooner.” 

Trudeau told reporters he is asked every day how long Canada’s social-distancing restrictions will stay in place. 

“The truth is we don’t know,” he said. What he does know is that the duration of the crisis will be determined by the choices Canadians make right now. “So if you want things to get back to normal, do your part, stay home,” he said. 

“We recognize that the need for social distancing — which means keeping two metres apart and not gathering in groups — is going to be place for many more weeks,” he said. 

In the meantime, Trudeau noted his Liberal government is introducing legislation Tuesday to give Canadians who have lost their jobs or are forced to stay home to care for their out-of-school children or sick loved ones at least $1,800 a month.  

“We will ensure that we are giving the support to Canadians to small business so that, as we get through this, we are able to restore the economic activity that keeps us all prosperous when it is safe to do so,” he said.

Canada, U.S. shut down shared border to non-essential travel

Officials in Canada have argued self-isolation measures are necessary to stop the spread of the disease, to protect doctors and nurses, and to ensure the health-care system isn’t overwhelmed trying to care for the elderly and those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

A planning document prepared for the Saskatchewan Health Authority and obtained by The Canadian Press, for example, noted that “even under conservative assumptions,”  COVID-19 would put great strain on resources. 

“There will likely be pronounced loss of life and health,” CP reported the document said.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, said she hoped to have an idea in a week or two of how well social distancing measures — avoiding groups and keeping to your own home — were working.

“Our primary strategy is to ensure people are self isolating, when they should be, and that also everyone is respecting social distancing,” she told a press conference in Ottawa. “That in and of itself will cut down on the chain of transmission, if everybody respects that. So I can’t emphasize how important that is, if we are going to get a handle on community spread, everybody has to respect those measures.”

Canada and the U.S. shut down their shared border to all non-essential travel Saturday. Food, medicine and industrial supplies will continue to travers unfettered, at least until the end of April when both countries will re-evaluate their border agreement.

The two countries have also struck a mutual agreement to send back asylum seekers crossing irregularly outside of official points of entry.

Tuesday morning there were more than 2,176 confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19 reported in Canada and 25 deaths. There were at least 33,404 cases reported in the United States and 400 deaths. Many of Canada’s cases have been traced back to travellers coming in from the U.S.

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