PM Trudeau warns of COVID-19 emergency benefit 'scam'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is cautioning Canadians to be wary of a “text scam” aimed at exploiting people who are looking to apply for the new emergency aid benefit.

Speaking to the pre-announced billions in revamped emergency benefits for Canadians who are now unemployed, or off work because of the pandemic, Trudeau told people to beware of any suspicious text messages about the new Emergency Response Benefit. 

“Alert: The emergency response benefit of Canada relief fund has sent you a deposit,” reads an example of the scam message that then asks the receiver to click a link to claim their money. This is not from the federal government. 

“I'm sorry to say there appears to be a text scam going around on the new emergency response benefit. I want to remind everyone that the government's website is the best place to find reliable information on everything we're doing,” he said.

Trudeau said the emergency benefit application portal will launch soon and Canadians will see money in their wallets within 14 days of applying, while other boosts and top-up measures are not expected to flow until May.

The Emergency Response Benefit will provide $2,000 a month for four months for those eligible. 

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough clarified on Thursday that the emergency benefit will be retroactive to March 15, and that any Canadians who are eligible for employment insurance and are already receiving it, or who have applied for EI or EI sickness benefits since March 15 will be automatically enrolled in the new program.

“We are truly doing everything in our power to help Canadians and protect them against this virus and its economic impacts,” she said.

‘Demands a global response’

Trudeau is emphasizing the need for global co-ordination on the COVID-19 pandemic response, after taking part in a video conference call with other leaders of the G20.

“We can only overcome COVID-19 if we take action together as a global community,” Trudeau said during his daily national address from Rideau Cottage on Thursday.

Trudeau said that COVID-19 “demands a global response” and now, more than ever, all nations need to work together on ensuring supplies flow and a vaccine is developed.

The prime minister said that the G20 international leaders spoke about the health and economic response to a rapidly spreading virus that, as several federal officials have stated, knows no borders.

China supply sharing

On February 9, Global Affairs Canada announced that, as part of international efforts to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, Canada had, the week prior, sent “approximately 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment, such as clothing, face shields, masks, goggles and gloves to the country,” to assist in China’s response to the outbreak.

Asked to explain why Canada decided to send these supplies abroad, Trudeau stated that the novel coronavirus is a worldwide pandemic, and a global response is needed. He said millions more protective items will be ready for Canadian front-line workers in the coming days.

Senior government sources have told CTV News that in the coming weeks Canada expects supplies from China will be sent to Canada, reciprocal to what the government sent to that country when it was needed, as factories get back up and running in China.

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Qualtrough said that at that stage in the spread of the virus, the international push was to try to contain it.

“Things have changed dramatically, and the world wasn’t successful in avoiding this pandemic,” she said, adding that by doing so Canada didn’t compromise what it needed or thought it would need at the time. 

Reacting to the government’s decision more than a month ago to send these supplies to China, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called it “outrageous.”

“The government was repeatedly warned by medical experts and the World Health Organization to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak. Now doctors and nurses across the country are facing urgent shortages of critical supplies,” Scheer said in a statement, calling on Trudeau to make clear the government’s plans to make sure front-line health-care workers have the supplies they need.

The manufacturing and technology sectors have already been asked to re-tool their production to assist in stockpiling supplies like sanitizer and masks.  

During the daily briefing from cabinet and public health officials, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that the pandemic is exposing the fragility of global supply chains.

From home Trudeau has been speaking regularly with other world leaders, who are also all grappling with how to respond to, or prepare for an onslaught of COVID-19 cases in their countries.

Returning traveller crackdown

Trudeau also updated Canadians on the latest domestic response efforts, which includes invoking the Quarantine Act to impose a 14-day mandatory self-isolation on travellers returning to Canada.

“Some people have not been taking this seriously,” Trudeau said, citing examples of snowbirds stopping at grocery stores on their return to Canada.

“This kind of conduct is not just disappointing, it’s dangerous,” Trudeau said, emphasizing the serious fines and potential jail time for those who don’t comply.

The maximum penalties include a fine of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for six months. Additionally, if a person causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly contravening the regulations, they could be subject to a fine of up to $1,000,000 or to imprisonment of up to three years, or to both.

Returning travellers displaying symptoms are forbidden from using public transit to get home, and are not allowed to be self-isolating in a place where they may come into contact with vulnerable people, such as the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions. Arrangements are being made through public health agencies to accommodate people who need assistance.

Trudeau said that there will be follow-up with people who enter Canada to ensure that the rules are being followed and they will not hesitate to enforce the law.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said there are already a small number of people who have crossed the border that the government is housing until they can safety be transferred to their homes. 

Trudeau’s self-isolation plans

Trudeau was set to receive the latest modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada on Wednesday on the evolution of the virus and he vowed to share what he could, saying Canadians “deserve the best information we’ve got about what’s happening today and what tomorrow might bring, because otherwise the uncertainty can be really tough.”

As of Thursday afternoon there were 3,890 confirmed COVID-19 cases Canada-wide.

Thursday marks the 15th day since Trudeau began self-isolating on account of his wife Sophie demonstrating COVID-19 symptoms and then shortly after being confirmed to have contracted the virus.

Trudeau said that neither he nor his children have demonstrated symptoms and they’ll continue to rely on health officials’ advice.

It remains unclear whether he’ll begin attending cabinet meetings and conducting other work in-person or if he’ll do as he’s asking millions of Canadians to do: stay home.  

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