Remarks by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance on Canada’s investments to fight Omicron variant

Speech

December 15, 2021

Good afternoon, everyone.

As Omicron has reminded us, we are still living in a pandemic. And, as we are learning, this is an even more transmissible variant of the virus.

Yesterday, our government released an Economic and Fiscal Update that outlines targeted investments that will give us the tools we need to finish the fight against COVID-19.

First and foremost, vaccines are our best line of defence against the virus. That is why we have invested more than $7.3 billion to buy vaccines for all eligible Canadians, including pediatric vaccines. This amount also includes the purchase of booster doses.

Omicron makes boosters more important than ever so please go and get your booster as soon as you are eligible. We have enough for everyone. The federal government is ensuring that third doses are free for all Canadians, as was the case for first and second doses.

We are committing $2 billion to buy therapeutics, including anti-viral medications, that will help prevent hospitalizations and save lives. If and when these medicines are approved by Health Canada, we already have agreements for 1 million courses of treatment from Pfizer, and an initial 500,000 from Merck, with the option for an additional 500,000.

Rapid tests are important too; they can help us break the chain of transmission. As we’ve just heard from Minister Duclos, and as I announced yesterday, we are investing a further $1.7 billion to procure and distribute an additional 180 million rapid tests. These are being distributed free to the province and territories.

Breaking the chain of transmission is critical in our fight against COVID-19. That is why we have introduced measures that enable public health authorities to make the right call and, as needed, put in place restrictions to control the spread of the virus.

We want public health officials, as they make these important and difficult decisions, to know that the federal government will be there to support workers and businesses.

That’s why, in October, we announced the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit and the Local Lockdown Support Program. These are two measures in Bill C-2, which is working its way through Parliament and the Senate as we speak, and respectively, these measures would provide direct support to affected workers and wage and rent subsidies to businesses, if subject to local lockdown restrictions.

We understand that certain travel restrictions will have an impact on tourism businesses which have already had a very difficult 21 months. Our Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program will provide wage and rent subsidies of up to 75 per cent.

When we introduced these programs in October, we forecast that they would cost $7.4 billion. But with the rising threat of Omicron, we decided to set aside an additional $4.5 billion for these programs, along with other necessary measures to control the spread of the virus.

I know that the rising threat that Omicron poses is not something any of us want to be dealing with, especially now, just before the holidays. I know we are all tired of COVID-19.

But I think we all also understand, after 21 months of fighting this virus, and doing a pretty good job as a country, that making hard decisions quickly and behaving carefully pays off. I also want to really reassure Canadians that we have, as a government, been careful and prudent.

We have been putting in place the measures that we will need precisely for this moment.

We didn’t know, of course, that Omicron specifically was coming in October when we proposed measures like the Local Lockdown Support Program, but we did know that the fight against COVID-19 was not yet over.

That is why we have spent the autumn buying the necessary health tools we will need to fight this virus. And, our economy and our public finances are in good shape.

Canada is strong. We have the tools, the resources, and the national determination to handle this and to keep this virus under control.

I know that Canadians are smart, that Canadians are resilient. I know Canadians are careful. I trust everyone to do the right thing, and to use their good judgement, and I am confident that together we can win this fight against COVID-19.

Thank you.

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