World Economy Bouncing Back From COVID-19 Faster Than Expected, OECD Says
The world economy is bouncing back from the pandemic crisis faster than expected, thanks in part to successful coronavirus vaccines and U.S. stimulus efforts, but the improvements are uneven and joblessness remains a big concern, according to a new forecast. On March 9, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) raised its expectations for global GDP growth to 5.5% this year and 4% next year. That is up from a December forecast of 4.2% growth in 2021 and 3.7% for 2022.
After the virus plunged the world economy into crisis last year, the OECD now expects global output to surpass pre-pandemic levels by the middle of this year. However, it warned of a divergence in progress, with faster growth in China and the U.S., while some other regions are expected to continue struggling until the end of 2022.
More vaccines needed
The Paris-based group also warned that new virus variants and too-slow vaccine rollouts could threaten chances of improvement for businesses and jobs. Nearly 10 million more people across the OECD’s 36 mostly rich-country member states are unemployed now than before the crisis. And in poorer countries, “substantial job losses have increased poverty and deprivation of millions of workers,” the report said. Governments and central banks should keep aid measures in place for as long as necessary and consider taking stronger actions to accelerate employment, curb bankruptcies, and promote sustainability, the organization added.
“The top policy priority is to ensure that all resources necessary are used to produce and fully deploy vaccinations as quickly as possible throughout the world, to save lives, preserve incomes and limit the adverse impact of containment measures on well-being,” the report said.
The OECD also said Canada could be poised for better-than-expected growth this year, mainly because it will benefit from a faster-than-expected recovery in its largest trading partner, the U.S. The U.S. is now forecast to grow its GDP by 6.5% this year. That’s more than twice as much as was being predicted in the last OECD forecast, three months ago.
Canada Extends 3 COVID-19 Supports for Businesses Until June
On March 3, the Canadian federal government announced that it will extend multiple critical COVID-19 emergency benefits aimed at helping businesses during the pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy Canada, as well as the Lockdown Support programs, will maintain their current rates until June 5, 2021.
The extension means the maximum wage subsidy rate for employees still on payroll will remain at 75%. For the rent subsidy program, the rate will remain at 65%. The Lockdown Support program will remain at 15%.
This will provide “hard-hit businesses with rent support of up to 90%,” Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland added. She said the trio of programs are being extended because the economy is still struggling even with encouraging signs of a recovery on the horizon. “Even if we have seen encouraging signs of a recovery, including higher growth forecast in the fourth quarter of 2020, we are not yet at the end of it,” she said in French.
Ottawa has paid out more than $66 billion in wage subsidies and $1.6 billion in rent subsidies, according to official data. Freeland said the cost of extending these programs were already set out in estimates published back in November. “Our approach is very cautious,” she said. “We had already anticipated in the forecast that it might be necessary to do what we announced today.”
Extending the rent program to June will cost an additional $2.1 billion, Freeland said. For the wage subsidy program, the additional cost would come at an approximate $13.9 billion. “I would add, these are programs that depend, in fact, on the situation Canadian businesses face. The level of assistance will depend on business revenues,” she continued in French. “So we will spend less if the economy is stronger and we will spend more if the economy is weaker and if businesses need further assistance.”
Source: Global News
Alberta Eases More COVID-19 Restrictions, Completes Step 2 of Reopening Plan
Retail stores and malls will be allowed to increase their capacity to 25% of fire-code, and youth sports teams and activities will be allowed to resume with up to 10 participants, Alberta’s health minister announced on March 8.
Tyler Shandro said with case counts and positivity rates continuing to decline, along with deaths and hospitalizations, it is now safe for the province to complete Step 2 of its reopening plan. “The situation is changing and we need to change along with it,” Shandro said. “We said that we’d complete Step 2 when it was safe to do so, and I believe that it now is.
“The time is right to keep moving safely forward, and at the same time there are reasons for us to remain cautious. We’re not seeing the same sharp incline in cases that we saw in December. Cases have plateaued. And we still have to consider carefully how to get the balance right. But I believe that this step, the remainder of Step 2 today, is safe,” he said.
All retail settings, including shopping malls, can now increase the number of customers from 15% of fire code occupancy to 25%, Shandro said. The change applies to stores and to common areas such as hallways and food courts.
Starting immediately, the Step 1 restrictions that applied to youth will be expanded to include members of college and university athletic programs. That means lessons, practices and physical conditioning will be allowed for those programs with a maximum of 10 participants in total, including coaches, trainers and participants. Those who attend will still be required to observe physical distancing rules and should wear masks at all times, except during the actual training activity. Restrictions are also being eased for child, youth and adult performances, including singing, theatre and the playing of wind instruments, though participants must follow the same restrictions as for youth sports.
Toronto and Peel to enter grey zone of COVID-19 framework, retail stores can reopen
Non-essential retail stores across Toronto and Peel Region reopened to customers on March 8 for the first time in more than three months as the two regions moved to the grey zone of Ontario’s tiered reopening framework. With the exception of stores that offer essential goods, retail shops in both regions were forced to suspend in-person shopping in late November due to rising community transmission of the novel coronavirus. The stay-at-home order was also lifted as the two areas transition back into the colour-coded framework.
In the grey zone, many businesses will remain closed, however all non-essential retail stores will be permitted to open with 25% of their regular indoor capacity. Supermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience stores will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity. Entering the grey zone also means that outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted once again.
Other parts of the GTA, including the regions of York, Halton, and Durham, are all in the red zone of the framework, which allows restaurants to offer in-person dining and other businesses, such as gyms and hair salons, to open. The province announced that the North Bay Parry Sound District health unit will be moving to the red zone on March 8.
Toronto trying to ‘avoid another lockdown,’ Tory says
But the medical officers of health in both Toronto and Peel Region requested that their respective local public health units be placed into the most restrictive category instead in order to prevent a possible surge in new cases triggered by more transmissible COVID-19 variants. Speaking to CP24 on March 5, Mayor John Tory said that while some members of the public are keen to see restrictions eased even further in Toronto, the city’s case numbers are still too high.
“A lot of people talk about, ‘Well we should be in red so that restaurants can open,’ and I really wish they could but the red zone has a number of about 40 cases per 100,000 of population (and) we are presently at about 72. Peel is at about 100,” he said. “So these are numbers that are still of concern. The variants are still of concern, they’ve kind of doubled in the last week or so.”
“I believe that what we are doing here is avoiding a lockdown down the road,” Tory said. “I think the worst result possible would be to have a lockdown say in four or six weeks from now just as the patio season is getting into swing and just as the restaurants really have a chance to have a lot more people patronizing them.”
As of March 8, seven other public health units transitioned to different categories of the reopening framework:
- Peterborough Public Health
- Public Health Sudbury and Districts
- Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit
- Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit; and
- Timiskaming Health Unit.
- Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit; and
- Renfrew County and District Health Unit.