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 worth C$52 billion ($36.62 billion), up from an initial C$27 billion outlined last week.

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

More than a million people signed up for unemployment benefits in the last week.

Oil companies asked Ottawa to free up cash and credit to survive, and banks could be hit harder than during the 2008 financial crisis.

The package, which Parliament approved earlier on Wednesday, includes an additional C$55 billion in tax deferrals.

About 3,400 Canadians have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 31 have died.

Morneau said additional measures would be unveiled “in coming days.” In a sign of the outbreak’s economic damage, Canada’s most populous province Ontario estimated a wider budget deficit.

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.

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

The plan 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.

Sports equipment maker Bauer Hockey plans to modify its hockey visors into face shields for healthcare workers, while retailers Canada Goose Holdings, and Gap Inc said they would produce medical gear.

Officials ordered returning travelers to obey a 14-day quarantine or face fines and criminal charges. Lawyers scrambled to get inmates out of jail amid fears of spreading coronavirus in close quarters.

Legislators backed the Liberal government’s measures after it removed 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 and allows a House committee controlled by opposition legislators to force Parliament back over spending abuses.

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

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