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A view from Parliament Hill: COVID-19 shuts down House, Senate

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The House of Commons and the Senate have shut down in response to the ongoing spread of COVID-19. Parliamentarians face an increased risk of contracting and spreading the virus as they meet with constituents, community groups, organizations, stakeholders and a wide variety of the public.

In response many Members of Parliament, ministers, the Prime Minister and his family had taken precautions by voluntarily self-isolating.

As it stands, Parliament will not sit again until the week of April 20. Canadians may see this as a long time between now and when parliament resumes. The reality according to the 2020 parliamentary calendar is that the House of Commons will only miss ten regular sitting days and the Senate will miss six. Unless the current situation changes there will be little disruption to the work of parliamentarians as the House and the Senate can increase or decrease the number of sitting days at any time to accommodate their legislative workloads.

To allow for parliament to adjourn the four major political parties agreed to pass all outstanding time-sensitive bills. The routine budgetary supply bills C-10 and C-11 were passed because they provide the funds required for continued government administration until the fiscal year end. A special warrant, bill C-12, was also passed to allow the government to access funds while dealing with COVID-19 when the parliament is adjourned.

The Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement Implementation Act (Bill C-4), or CUSMA, was also passed into law. CUSMA was making its way through the parliamentary process having been studied by the House Standing Committee on International Trade. There was little anticipation parliamentarians would amend the free-trade agreement since it had already signed by the U.S. and Mexico.

The government has taken further action to address the consequences Canadians face from the spread of the virus. Earlier in the week, the Prime Minister announced there would be an additional $1 billion COVID-19 Response Fund. This fund will be used to enhance employees who may need to self-isolate access to employment insurance by waiving the one week waiting-period to apply. The funds will provide further support for the surveillance and research of the virus with the goal of further prevention.

Visit the Public Health Agency of Canada for the most up-to-date information about COVID-19.

Some facts about COVID-19

On Wednesday, March 11 the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized the COVID-19 virus as a pandemic. This means that the virus has, and will continue, to spread over a wide geographic range.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada there are 152 cases, 80% being travelers, confirmed in Canada with one death. The symptoms are similar to a mild flu or cold, with possible coughing, fever, difficulty breathing which could last approximately 14 days.

Those who are at the greatest risk are individuals over 65 years of age, compromised immune systems, and underlying medical conditions.

The virus spreads quickly as it is a respiratory illness and health experts are asking the public to take precautions by washing hands, refraining from touching the face, and taking precautions when travelling or joining large group gatherings. There is no vaccine available for the virus at this time.

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Robert Rivers PhD., was born and raised in Lindsay. He earned his PhD from the University of British Columbia in Population and Public health. He currently serves as the Director of Parliamentary Affairs to the independent Senator Marty Klyne. He is the Advocate's volunteer Ottawa correspondent.

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