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What does the coronavirus pandemic mean for Canadians?

Details on the pandemic classification and the current coronavirus situation in Canada.

We’ll continue updating this page with resources and information as new details emerge on how Canadian leaders and businesses are responding to COVID-19.

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic for the coronavirus known as COVID-19.

So, what does “pandemic” mean? The WHO defined a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease”, in relation to the previous swine flu (H1N1) pandemic in 2009-10. The COVID-19 outbreak is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. According to WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, this classification “does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus.” He also said that:

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

According to Meredith MacLeod at, “Declaring a pandemic doesn’t grant the WHO additional powers, but it indicates the health authority no longer believes the disease is containable within a specific region or regions. It also signals that countries should shift to focusing on coping with COVID-19, rather than containment measures, such as restrictive traveller screening and quarantines.”

How is a pandemic different to an epidemic?

A pandemic refers to the worldwide spread of a disease, while an epidemic is an infectious disease outbreak that is typically within one country or geographic area. In basic terms, an epidemic is more isolated, while a pandemic occurs on a global scale.

How the “pandemic” status affects Canada: Lockdown and social distancing

Canada was first placed in mandatory lockdown on March 18, 2020 as per measures enacted by both the federal and provincial/territorial governments to halt the spread of coronavirus. Canadians abroad were urged to return home, those already home were forbidden from leaving and everyone was (and still is) encouraged to practice social distancing. This means keeping at least 2 metres, or roughly 6.5 feet, away from others).

In the time leading up, individual cities and provinces, such as Ontario, declared a state of emergency and banned both public and private gatherings of more than a limited number of people (usually between 10 and 50).

Canadian Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau, delivers regular updates to the public detailing support measures the government is taking, financial relief options and more. As part of the government’s efforts to understand the virus and its impact, an Incident Response Group on coronavirus was convened and began meeting at the end of January. On March 5, the Prime Minister created a Cabinet Committee on the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which meets regularly “to ensure whole-of-government leadership, coordination, and preparedness to limit the health, economic and social impacts of the virus.”

Is the lockdown over?

Not quite, although it eased up in some parts of Canada during the summer and fall of 2020. In late April, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau confirmed that the federal and provincial governments were in talks to begin planning to reopen the economy. However, towards the end of the year, many regions resumed lockdown measures to help combat a unfortunate increase in COVID-19 cases.

After periods of lockdown, businesses and schools typically reopen in phases across various regions in each province and territory. Each phase allows for certain types of activities to resume and certain types of businesses to reopen with continued restrictions (such as mandatory face mask usage, social distancing and outdoor-only seating areas).

Provincial and territorial governments have taken the lead on determining which areas continue to be high risk and which can afford to ease up on some restrictions. Visit your provincial government website for more information.

The Canadian government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan

Perhaps of highest concern to many Canadians is the federal government’s Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan announced on March 18, 2020, which includes billions of dollars in relief funds for individual Canadians and businesses alike.

The Federal government has created a coronavirus stimulus package worth billions of dollars, which will provide cash handouts and tax relief to those who have been affected by COVID-19. The package includes support for both individuals and businesses. Canada’s Big 5 Banks and many other financial institutions have provided mortgage deferrals for up to 6 months for clients who have been financially hurt by the pandemic.

Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB — replaces the Canada Emergency Response Benefit)

The government is devoting funds to support workers who are facing unemployment, because they’ve lost their jobs or experienced reduced hours due to coronavirus.

According to the government’s plan, this support will provide a taxable benefit of $1,000 ($900 after taxes) for 2 weeks up to a maximum of 26 weeks for people who meet all certain criteria during the period for which they’re applying. You’ll need to re-attest every 2 weeks after that to reconfirm your eligibility.

You can apply through your CRA My Account or by calling 1-800-959-2019 or 1-800-959-2041. You’ll need your Social Insurance Number (SIN) and postal code to verify your identity over the phone. Funds will be delivered in 3-5 business days for direct deposit or up 10-12 business days for cheques delivered by mail.

Similar benefits are available to those who are caring for someone who’s ill (Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit) or who have had to self-isolate (Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit). Learn more in our guide to financial assistance for those affected by the coronavirus.

Other governmental relief initiatives

Besides the Canada Recover Benefit, Caregiving Benefit and Sickness Benefit, the federal government also offered the following relief initiatives in 2020:

  • A 6-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments in 2020.
  • A temporary boost to Canada Child Benefit payments, delivering about $2 billion in extra support.
  • Extended deadlines for filing 2019 taxes and paying amounts owing.
  • Those receiving Old Age Security (OAS) got an extra, one-time payment of $300, and those receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) got an extra one-time payment of $200. Those eligible for both received a total of $500 extra. Disbursements were made in July, 2020.
  • One-time increase of GST/HST credits. The exact amount of the increase was based on each person’s 2018 tax return.
  • People who qualify for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) got a one-time, non-taxable payment of $600 in 2020.
  • (Ongoing) Millions of dollars for a newly-created Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities.
  • (Ongoing) Doubling the homeless care program.

Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan: See which benefits you qualify for and how to apply

How to stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak

The WHO has outlined a number of recommendations to help protect yourself and others, including:

  • Wash your hands often. Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water helps kill the virus. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand rub or hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid touching your face. Our hands touch many different surfaces, which means they could pick up the virus from an exposed surface. If that happens, touching your eyes, nose or mouth could increase the risk of the virus entering your body.
  • Practice social distancing. Where possible, keep at least 1 metre between you and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. This helps stop small droplets from spraying on people or surfaces. If you use a tissue, remember to put it in a bin and wash your hands as soon as possible.
  • Seek medical care if you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing. If you suspect you may be infected, use this self-assessment tool from the government of Canada and it will guide you through what to do.
  • Stay informed. Check the Government of Canada website or other official sources, rather than relying on news or social media. Your workplace, schools, gyms and other public places you frequent may also have specific guidelines in regards to COVID-19.
  • Downloand the COVID Alert app. On July 31, 2020, the federal government released the COVID Alert app (for Android and iOS). This non-mandatory app lets users report if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and anonymously notifies people nearby that they may have been exposed. Currently, only residents of Ontario can use the app to report their test results, but soon this functionality will be extended across Canada (the exact date has not yet been announced).

For further details, visit the World Health Organization website.

How is the pandemic affecting other areas of life?

Beyond health concerns, some of the biggest impacts related to the coronavirus include:

  • Travel and travel insurance

    If you have travel plans or still want to go away, you may be able to make changes to your dates or destinations as many travel companies have updated their policies in light of the coronavirus outbreak. It’s also worth checking out whether you’re covered by travel insurance, as most insurers won’t cover you for a known event.

  • Cancelled events

    To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, restrictions have been placed on public events and gatherings over a certain size. Already, a number of major events have been cancelled. You can read about the list of sports events that have been cancelled, relocated or postponed here. Check the government’s website for the latest alerts and advice on prevention and social distancing.

  • Investments and retirement savings

    While there are many contributing factors, it is worth noting that the coronavirus outbreak has been a major influence on the latest stock market crash. If you have investments, this is something to consider carefully before deciding what to do. It is also worth looking at the potential effect it could have on your superannuation – although there shouldn’t be too much of an impact in the long term for a well-diversified portfolio.

    Coronavirus (COVID-19): Stocks to buy and how to invest

  • Panic buying

    Fear and uncertainty have driven many people to stockpile toilet paper and other everyday items. This type of panic buying can put certain groups of people at a disadvantage and lead to stock problems or higher prices. Supermarkets have now put limits on staples advising people to only buy what they need. Remember: if you need toilet paper and can’t find any in a shop, you could also try looking online.

Bottom line

As this situation is being updated frequently, many other changes could occur. While there are lots of unknowns, the WHO has said the situation could improve if countries act now.

“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in his media briefing on 11 March 2020.

“If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission. Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus.”

Quick action on the part of the Canadian government has started to flatten the curve of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 in some regions. Provincial and federal governments have been considering next steps, but there’s still a ways to go before life can return to normal.

Keep up-to-date on all things related to COVID-19

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