OTTAWA/WINNIPEG - Canada pledged new money on Thursday to develop and eventually mass-produce vaccines in its fight against the coronavirus, while the western province of Saskatchewan unveiled its plan to gradually restart its economy.
Canada's 10 provinces have closed non-essential businesses and urged people to stay at home since mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that Ottawa would spend C$1.1 billion ($782 million) to bolster vaccine research, clinical trials and national testing.
"Once we've developed a vaccine, whether it be in Canada or elsewhere around the world, we're going to need to produce it," Trudeau said.
Noting there had been a competitive global scramble to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) amid the pandemic, "part of the investment we're making ... is to establish the capacity of developing vaccines and mass-producing vaccines here in Canada."
Canada's total coronavirus deaths rose to 2,028 on Thursday, up 8% from a day earlier, official data showed.
Some provinces have seen daily case numbers dwindle.
Saskatchewan plans a phased approach to reopening, starting on May 4 with medical services such as dentists and chiropractors. Golf courses reopen on May 15.
The second phase, starting on May 19, allows retail stores and services such as hairdressers and massage therapy to open.
Broader restrictions, such as at seniors homes, and limits on gatherings to 10 people, remain in place. Testing and contact tracing will increase.
"We have to find middle ground that continues to keep our case numbers low ... while allowing Saskatchewan people to get back to work," Premier Scott Moe said.
The province has not set dates for subsequent phases to reopen restaurants, theaters, pools and casinos.
The timing will depend on the spread of the coronavirus during the first two phases, Moe said.
On Wednesday, there were only 61 active cases and five hospitalizations in the province, which is about 70% below the Canadian average, he said.
Ontario — the most populous province — extended its shutdown until at least May 6. Quebec has prolonged its closures until early May.
Asked about Saskatchewan's plan, Trudeau said Ottawa was coordinating with provinces so that decisions are made using similar guidelines.
"Different provinces are in very different postures related to COVID-19 and will be taking decisions appropriate for them," Trudeau told reporters.
In the United States, some businesses prepared to reopen in Georgia and a few other states for the first time in a month. Their plans have drawn criticism from health experts who warn that a premature easing of stay-at-home guidelines could trigger a surge in cases.