TORONTO - "We are definitely in unprecedented times. The only people that would have some sense of the distruction that is going on would be those who lived through the Second World War". These are the words used by the Hon. Deb Schulte, Minister of Seniors and MP for King-Vaughan, to describe - in an exclusive interview with Corriere Canadese- the global crisis we are living due to the pandemic of Covid-19.
Minister Schulte, what is your point of view on what is going on with this pandemic?
"We are not in a war but in a bit of a battle. It does mean that people have to change significantly their lifestyle and adjust it quickly. Italy is very close to us. Our community is hurting when we are seeing what is going on over in Italy. We have lots of family and friends there and we know that they are really suering. So it is frustrating and concerning for us for what is going on over there. But it is also very important to say thank you to Italy for sharing their informations about the pandemic, to make sure that people - here in Canada - can learn from what they are sharing. Canada has been in touch at the highest level with Italy. Prime Minister Trudeau spoke with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Champagne has spoken with Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, earlier this month. We are discussing the outbreak and expressing our solidarity to Italy".
Seniors seem to be the most exposed and the most vulnerable to this pandemic of Covid-19. What it should be done to further protect them?
"First of all was appropriate to deny non-essential visitors from going into those long-term care centres were more vulnerable seniors are, even if created some anxiety on the part of family members which provide support to their elderly ones, but now they cannot do that. But we are working with all provinces to find a better way to allow families to be in contact and connect with their seniors through technology - such as mobile phones, facetime, video chats - to be sure they still can connect with their loved ones and make sure they are safe. I have been all week on the phone with dierent provincial ministers to address this very issue, how do we get the message out, how do we provide services to seniors who are isolated and are not able to get the supplies they need. We are working to make sure that seniors care facilities would have more personnel redirected to address those needs. I also had a lot of local groups of volunteers calling me to help them to reach out for seniors who need - for example - groceries delivery, because we want to keep our seniors healthy and safe. It is a real time of coming together."
What would you suggest to keep our seniors safer, even in their homes?
"I know that a lot of senior members in our community look after children, do daycare and support their families. But I think that people should start thinking about the safety of the seniors, since we know that seniors - even if they are in good health - are more vulnerable to this disease. We need to make sure that people understand that - at this point in time - seniors just staying at their own homes, having less frequent visits and not exposing theirselves, not getting too close to other members that are maybe circulating more in the community, avoiding crowds or go out during peak-off times. Italians are very expressive, giving the ’double-cheeks" kissing, hugging a lot, but I believe that at this time they should really step back and wave instead of the close contacts behaviour, even if it is natural. It is sad, but also family members should be very careful and avoid the physical contact with their seniors, to protect their health".
Many seniors have single or low income pensions. What it should be done to help them?
"There is no changes with Old Age Security or Canada Pension Plan and they will keep coming in time, so they do not need to worry. The only ones that are more challenged are the ones that are withdrawing through mandatory withdrawals from RR’s and other who are withdrawing from their savings such as RRSPs that maybe depleting at a factor risk because of the fast drop in the market. Our government just announced a reduction in the mandatory withdrawal from the RRSP’s with a 25% of it, trying to help those not to be forced to take it out if they can avoid doing that. We also deferred the tax filing season until June 1. There is also a very large and comprehensive package of initiatives being released by our government with 27 billion dollars allocated to make sure that families and seniors will have enough to go through these very difficult times we are living".