Government Response to COVID-19

The Top Line

As of late morning, on Tuesday, March 10, the Novel Coronavirus called COVID-19 has infected 116,458 people and killed 4,091 people – and counting – worldwide. The first recorded Canadian case of the disease was on January 28. As of March 10, 77 cases of the coronavirus in Canada have been confirmed, and the disease claimed its first Canadian death in British Columbia on March 9.

The extent of global economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 is well-documented. In Canada, there have been widespread event and meeting cancellations, targeted travel advisories and restrictions, and many cautionary self-isolations.

To address the national and global spread of COVID-19, the Federal and Provincial Governments have taken a number of actions to contain the virus, ensure proper healthcare for those that fall ill, and protect the Canadian economy from spillover effects. The following is a summary of those efforts, how stakeholders can track Governments’ work, and channels to inform the public policy response to COVID-19.

Please note that stakeholders should monitor for the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 and Canada’s response to the disease. As of the publication of this note, the official assessment of the public health risk of the disease for Canada is low.

Federal Context

The national response to COVID-19 is being led by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which operates the Federal, Provincial, Territorial Public Health Response Plan for Biological Events – a framework to guide pan-Canadian public health responses to biological events (such as the spread of communicable diseases) that was formalized in 2017.

The Public Safety Canada-led Government Operations Centre has also been activated to coordinate emergency response to COVID-19 across different levels of government and between various federal departments and agencies.

At the political level, the Incident Response Group, a Cabinet Committee created in 2018 to act as a dedicated emergency Committee for national crises or global incidents that have major implications for Canada, has met at least twice since the outbreak of COVID-19. The full membership of the group is not public, but it is known to include the Prime Minister and Chrystia Freeland, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Cabinet Committee on the Federal Response to the Coronavirus Disease

As of March 4, political oversight of the Federal Government’s response to COVID-19 is being directed by a dedicated Cabinet Committee for the coronavirus, which will meet regularly and is tasked with whole-of-government leadership, coordination, and preparedness for the response to the health and economic impacts of the virus.

The Committee is chaired by Minister Chrystia Freeland, and also includes Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, and MP Kirsty Duncan (who is included due to her academic work on the 1918 Spanish Flu and the virologic effects of climate change).

  • The office of Minister Bains is closely monitoring the economic impacts of COVID-19 and soliciting stakeholder feedback on how the Government may be of assistance. Please let TSA know if you would like support with outreach to the Minister’s office.

Statements on the work of the Committee are issued at:

The Public Health Agency of Canada

PHAC is leading Canada’s efforts to prepare for, prevent, detect, and respond to the spread of COVID-19 and is communicating those efforts to the public through regular technical briefings by the Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam.

Specific actions that PHAC has taken include:

  • Extensive collaboration with provincial and territorial Chief Medical Officers of Health and other senior public health officials to share information and coordinate response efforts, including establishing a Special Advisory Committee.
  • Increasing COVID-19 testing capacity across Canada through the work of the National Microbiology Laboratory.
  • Advising Canadians not to travel on cruise ships for the foreseeable future.

The latest information on PHAC’s response to COVID-19 can be found here:

Stakeholders may wish to consult the PHAC risk-informed decision-making for mass gatherings tool, which, based on advice from the World Health Organization, can help you create risk-mitigation strategies for large events.


Public Safety Canada is conducting additional border screening measures at all international airports in Canada. Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada recommends that Canadians avoid non-essential travel to China, Iran and Northern Italy, due to the high number of Coronavirus cases in those countries. Global travel to and from Canada remains otherwise relatively unimpeded.

However, under the Quarantine Act, 2005, the Federal Health Minister has the power to temporarily detain Canadian citizens and travellers to Canada in order to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases – and this is a scenario that business travellers should duly consider. To date, the Federal Government has ordered the quarantine of 650 travellers since the outbreak of COVID-19 – though all of those cases are of people returning to Canada from Wuhan, China (the epicentre of COVID-19) or from a Japanese cruise ship that housed an outbreak of the illness.

Provincial Governments

Provincial Health Ministers and Premiers and the Prime Minister communicate regularly about COVID-19. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has also chaired a call with his provincial counterparts about the economic impacts of the virus.

All of the Provincial Governments are highly-engaged on COVID-19, but with the majority of Canadian cases of the virus occurring in British Columbia and Ontario, the most robust responses have been in those jurisdictions.

British Columbia has created a Provincial Cabinet Committee for COVID-19, co-chaired by Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix. And, on March 6, the Government and the Provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced a Pandemic Provincial Co-ordination Plan – which is focussed on delaying, containing and preparing the Province to minimize serious illness and economic disruption caused by the Coronavirus.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has asked every Ministry to create an emergency plan to deal with the spread of COVID-19. Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams are the Provincial Government’s primary spokespeople for the issue.

Economic Response

The G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors are closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on the economy. On March 4, the Bank of Canada cut its key lending rate by 0.50 points due to what it called “material negative shock” from the Coronavirus outbreak. Partially driven by investor fears about the Coronavirus and its impacts on global trade, Monday, March 9 was the worst day on Wall Street since 2008 and saw the largest single-day decline of the Toronto Stock Exchange since 1987. Those factors will weigh heavily on the Federal Government’s economic response to COVID-19.

On March 9, Finance Minister Bill Morneau expressed confidence that the Canadian economy can weather the effects of the coronavirus, but he also mused about using federal stimulus measures – such as a temporary increase to the Canada Child Benefit, supports for small businesses that are hobbled by the disease, or dedicated healthcare transfers to the provinces – to help buttress the economy against the impacts of the virus.

Stakeholders impacted by COVID-19 should monitor Federal Budget 2020 closely, because it will be the primary vehicle for delivering the Federal Government’s fiscal responses to the impacts of the disease.

Looking Ahead

A previously-scheduled First Ministers meeting occurring Friday, March 13 in Ottawa is an outlet for further federal-provincial collaboration on the response to COVID-19. The Federal Government is committed to helping the provinces fill any shortfalls in supplies or capacity to address Coronavirus, and has already begun coordinating bulk orders of medical supplies. Minister Freeland has asked the provincial and territorial leaders to inform the Federal Government about their state of readiness and any shortages prior to that meeting.

Unexpected healthcare expenses and revenue shortfalls due to economic malaise may impact the balance sheets and spending measures of the coming federal and provincial budgets. The Ontario Budget is scheduled to be released on March 25. The Federal Budget date has not yet been announced.

If you have any questions about this brief or would like assistance in engaging governments about COVID-19, please contact

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