Government Extends Pandemic Recovery Programs and Business Supports

The federal government announced extensions of a number of pandemic economic support programs, including the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). A news release from the Department of Finance says the eligibility period for CRB and CEWS has been extended to Oct. 23. The Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) will also receive the same extension. 

The department also announced that the amount of support available to employers under both the CEWS and CERS programs will be increased for the period of Aug. 29 to Sept. 25. In the news release, the government says it is extending the programs “in recognition that uneven economic reopening across regions and sectors means workers and businesses continue to need support.”

CRB, which largely replaced the earlier Canada Economic Recovery Benefit, is designed to provide income support to those who are not covered by Employment Insurance (EI). It can pay out between $300 to $500 per week to recipients, depending on when they applied. The number of weeks claimants can receive the CRB is also getting a boost, to 54 weeks from the previous 50.

Through CEWS, the government partially covers employee wages for businesses that have lost revenue during the pandemic.

“Extending these supports — which have been lifelines for many — is needed,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in the release. “This is of particular importance for those workers and businesses that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and are still reopening and rebuilding.”

The extensions will come as a relief to businesses struggling with capacity limits and other public health restrictions, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said. “With only 35% of businesses back to making normal levels of sales, any additional runway on these crucial federal support programs is welcome news,” Dan Kelly, CFIB president and CEO, said in a news release.

Kelly did say he’s concerned about a lack of access to business support programs for new ventures. He also said benefit programs like CRB could hurt businesses looking to hire. “With a growing shortage of skilled workers in many sectors, CFIB cautions the government to ensure CRB or any other Employment Insurance measures do not disincentivize people from returning to work by ensuring part-time worker benefits are not higher than they earned pre-pandemic,” he said.

Source: CBC

Canada Loosens More Travel Restrictions for Fully Vaccinated Travellers and Reaches Deal With Border Agents. 

The federal government has opened our border to fully vaccinated Americans. The government will also loosen several travel restrictions that apply to Canadians returning home from abroad.

For more than a month, fully vaccinated Canadian travellers have been allowed to skip quarantine when returning home from abroad. In a continuation of its phased reopening of the border, as of August 7, the government will allow fully vaccinated Americans to both enter Canada and skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine. 

But before eager Americans pack their bags, they should make sure they meet all requirements, said Denis Vinette, vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency’s COVID-19 border task force. First, to be considered fully vaccinated, Americans must have received all required doses of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine 14 days prior to entering Canada. Second, only U.S. citizens and permanent residents residing in and travelling from the United States will be permitted entry. And, just like Canadian travellers, Americans must submit their travel information — including vaccination documents — using the ArriveCAN app or by registering online within 72 hours before their arrival. 

Testing requirements 

Although they get to skip quarantine, all fully vaccinated travellers entering Canada must still provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test taken within 72 hours of arrival. Air passengers need to take the test within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of their final direct flight to Canada. However, as of August 9, vaccinated travellers will get to skip the government-administered post-arrival COVID-19 test — unless they’re randomly selected to take it. 

Fully vaccinated travellers who test positive for COVID-19, or who fail to meet Canada’s vaccination requirements, have two choices: They can either quarantine for 14 days or return to the country from which they departed.

Travelling with children

Canada will also start allowing unvaccinated children under the age of 12 and travelling with fully vaccinated parents to skip quarantine as of August 9. Older unvaccinated children will still have to quarantine, but children under 12 get an exemption because they currently can’t get vaccinated in either Canada or the U.S.

Those children will still be required to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival, plus another one eight days later — unless they’re under the age of five. Both tests will be provided for free by the government. 

Parents travelling with unvaccinated children exempt from quarantine are asked to make sure their children take the necessary health precautions, such as avoiding large crowds. American families travelling with unvaccinated children between the ages of 12 and 17 can still enter Canada, but the children must quarantine for 14 days.

More reopening in September

Starting August 9, fully vaccinated French citizens who reside in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, a French territory near Newfoundland and Labrador, will also be allowed to enter Canada.

The government plans to reopen Canada’s borders to fully vaccinated travellers from the rest of the world on Sept. 7, but that rule and others may change if Canada gets hit with a serious fourth wave of COVID-19.

Canadian travellers should also take note that the U.S. side of the Canada-U.S. land border remains closed to non-essential travellers until at least Aug. 21. However, Canadians have been able to fly to the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. And all unvaccinated travellers entering Canada by air as of August 9 will no longer have to spend part of their quarantine in a government-designated hotel. However, they still must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival and take all the required COVID-19 tests. 

Border town exemptions

As Canada reopens its border to U.S. travellers, some residents of isolated American border towns say the rules for them are unclear. While fully vaccinated Americans will be able to enter Canada and even skip quarantine, residents of Point Roberts, Wash., Hyder, Alaska, and the Northwest Angle in Minnesota will be allowed to enter Canada regardless of their vaccinated status. All three communities are cut off from the rest of the U.S. because of the placement of the border.

Labour disruption?

On August 6, roughly 8,500 Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) workers launched a “work-to-rule” strike amid negotiations for a new contract, before a tentative agreement was reached hours later. Since 90% of Canada’s border agents are considered essential workers, they weren’t able to walk off the job. But the workers’ two unions had warned that travellers may experience long lineups at the border due to job action, which could include CBSA agents asking travellers more questions than usual.

“We are relieved that CBSA and the government finally stepped up to address the most important issues for our members, to avoid a prolonged labour dispute,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president.

The border agents had been without a contract since 2018. At issue are demands by the unions for better protections of their members against what has been described as a toxic workplace culture, and greater pay parity with other law-enforcement agencies across Canada.

Source: CBC
Source: The Star
Source: The Star

Capacity Limits, Mask Mandate to Be Eliminated for Most Places in Manitoba

Masks will no longer be required in indoor public spaces and capacity limits will be eliminated for most businesses as Manitoba’s next reopening steps take effect on August 7 — one month earlier than first planned. There will also be no restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings at private residences.

“This is a significant reopening for Manitoba. It’s the largest loosening of restrictions since the beginning of this pandemic,” said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin. Specifically, the new public health orders will allow retailers and malls, gyms and fitness centres, libraries, personal services such as hair and nail salons, day camps, markets and garden centres to open without restrictions. As for masks, due to the ongoing presence of COVID-19 and the extra risk posed by the more contagious delta variant, health officials strongly recommend those who are not fully immunized continue to use masks and stay two metres away from others while indoors.

The new public health orders take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday and will expire at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 7. They will be reassessed at that time in the context of vaccination rates and Manitoba’s overall COVID-19 situation, the province said in a news release.

As of August 3, 80% of eligible Manitobans ages 12 and up had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the news release said. The province expects to reach 75% with two doses within the next week. Those numbers were set out in the province’s reopening plan as targets for the Labour Day long weekend in September.

Premier Brian Pallister noted the new health orders reflect a shift from requirements to recommendations but emphasized that people need to keep up their guard and follow those recommendations. Even though they’re not orders, it’s a very important way that we’ll continue to keep that COVID curve bent down,” he said.

Expanded but still limited capacity will stay in place for weddings, funerals and other public gatherings — both indoors and out — such as worship services and cultural events, like powwows. Restaurants and bars no longer need to restrict the size or space between tables and dining will not be limited to households or vaccinated individuals However, customers are not allowed to socialize between tables and dancing is not allowed.

“We have to learn how to live with COVID. So I want to remind Manitobans to be patient with others, be kind with others.” There will be people who are more open and comfortable with the scaled-back restrictions than others, he said. Some people may still choose to wear masks and some businesses may still choose to require the use of masks. “This will take time in this transition,” Roussin said.

Museums, galleries and movie theatres remain limited to 50% capacity but will no longer be restricted to fully vaccinated individuals. Casinos and bingo halls, professional sporting events, horse and auto racing and concert halls will continue to be limited to vaccinated individuals but can now open to 100% capacity.

Indoor and outdoor sports and recreation will fully reopen with limits only on spectator capacity. Overnight camps will be permitted, with limits on camper cohorts.

Remote work will no longer be required or recommended by public health. Workplaces will be encouraged to transition from COVID-19 safety plans to a general communicable disease prevention plan that focuses on basic risk-reduction principles to reduce the risk of workplace transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. Workplaces must continue to report COVID-19 cases to government for followup. Confirmed transmission in a workplace may result in it being ordered to close for a minimum of 10 days.

Source: CBC

Facing Onset of 4th Wave of Covid-19 Infections, Quebec to Implement Vaccine Passport System while Nova Scotia Liberals Propose Covid-19 Vaccine Passport if Elected Aug. 17

With the threat of a fourth wave looming, Quebec Premier François Legault announced on August 5 that vaccine passports will soon be required to access non-essential services such as gyms and restaurants. “People who have made the effort to get their two doses must be able to live a somewhat normal life,” Legault said during a media briefing. He said the system will allow the province to avoid the widespread closures that have marked its pandemic response to date.

For several months, the province has been issuing QR codes to vaccinated people. These codes, which can be printed or stored on a mobile device, are scanned to pull up information about a person’s vaccination status. So far, the province has not provided anyone with the information to interpret the codes.

Legault said details will be released soon, and that rising case numbers and the prospect of more hospitalizations and deaths have made a vaccine passport system necessary. Since the start of the vaccination campaign, 83% of Quebecers have received at least a first dose, while 67% of the population is adequately vaccinated, according to the province’s public health institute, INSPQ.

Legault says although the province is on track to achieving its goal of fully vaccinating 75% of the eligible population by September, the highly contagious delta variant could lead to a spike in hospitalizations, noting that it’s important to get fully vaccinated and that the province was reviewing its targets with public health.

Epidemiologist says ‘it’s time’

Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist, said because the more contagious delta variant is now spreading in Quebec, the government no longer has the luxury of waiting to convince stragglers of the merits of vaccination. “Because of delta, we have to be strategic. It’s time to do it now,” Baral said of the passport system.

For months, the Legault government has warned that vaccine passports may be necessary if the epidemiological situation worsens. Health Minister Christian Dubé said in July that people in Quebec who are not fully vaccinated may see themselves shut out of places and activities deemed “high” or “moderate” risk — such as gyms, team sports and theatres, for example — as an alternative to a generalized lockdown.

In a tweet on August 5, Dubé said people who were not vaccinated or who only received their first dose in the past 14 days comprise 62% of new COVID-19 cases. “The rise in cases is worrisome,” Dubé wrote. “We can speak of the beginning of a fourth wave.”

Similar systems in use elsewhere

France and Italy already have vaccine passport systems in place and plan to expand them to more businesses and services. New York City will begin implementing a system later in August.  

Quebec will be the first Canadian province to require two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to access certain services, though Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have similar measures. For example, Manitoba’s vaccination card allows vaccinated people to travel elsewhere in the country without having to isolate upon their return. It also allows people to visit their loved ones in seniors’ residences. P.E.I requires all travellers age 12 and up to obtain a pass that includes the name address and vaccination status of the traveller.

Nova Scotia’s Liberal leader says his party will implement a COVID-19 vaccination passport system if elected Aug. 17. Iain Rankin told reporters that although the so-called “ScotiaPass” would not be mandatory, it would provide businesses such as restaurants with a tool to help keep their patrons safe.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the Montreal news conference with Legault, says he fully supports Quebec’s decision and is looking to implement vaccine passports in other interested provinces to facilitate international travel.

Critics predict conflicts, policing issues

Trudeau said the clerk of the privy council is evaluating how federal government employees and workers in industries regulated by the federal government, such as airlines, may be required to get vaccinated. “Canadians have understood that you need to get vaccinated to get through the pandemic. It’s not just a question of individual choice, it’s about protecting the community,” Trudeau said.

François Meunier, vice-president of Quebec’s restaurant association, says there will be conflicts with customers and owners will be stuck policing the system. However, he said, “experiencing widespread confinement for almost a year is a situation that must be avoided at all costs.”

New Details about the Passports

The vaccine passport will be implemented in places with high capacity and a high rate of contact, such as festivals, bars, restaurants, gyms and training facilities to avoid the widespread closures that marked the first waves of COVID-19 in Quebec. For the time being, the vaccination passport will not be used in retail stores or schools.

While clients of certain non-essential services, like bars, will need to be vaccinated and have a QR code to prove it, the same will not be required of staff. Dubé says that mandating vaccines for staff would break labour laws. Children under 12 will not need to provide proof of vaccination as there are no approved COVID-19 vaccines for that age group. People 12 and older, who are eligible for vaccination, will be required to. 

The passport will be used on an app that is currently being tested. Two pilot projects are planned: one at a sports bar in Quebec City, another at a gym in the Vimont district of Laval, just north of Montreal.

Dubé says the government wants to have the smartphone application ready for use across the province by September, though people who do not have a smartphone will be able to use the paper vaccination certificates issued at vaccine centres. They can also print out their QR code or request a paper version by mail. Dubé says the application will read the QR code sent to people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Businesses will need to download an application to read the QR codes and clients will need a different application to display them. Both apps should be available later in August and will be free. As for what kind of data the app collects? “None… It’s only a reading application, that’s it,” Christian Dubé clarified. 

With regard to travellers from other provinces and from outside the country, Dubé indicated that he is in talks with the federal government to harmonize the vaccination passport with the ArriveCan app.

Source: CBC
Source: The Star
Source: CBC

Health Officials Closing Nightclubs and Bars, Placing Limits on Gatherings in B.C.’s Central Okanagan

Officials in B.C. reinstated a number of public health orders for the Central Okanagan area on August 6, shutting nightclubs, limiting restaurant dining and restricting the size of social gatherings until further notice as the delta variant drives the rapid spread of COVID-19. Nightclubs and bars will be closed as of August 6, while liquor cut-off at restaurants will be 10 p.m. PT. Limits on the number of people allowed to gather together apply both indoors and outdoors as of August 9.

People who had plans to travel to the Central Okanagan should try to cancel or reschedule, officials said. Anyone who is not vaccinated, in particular, should avoid the area.

“This is not where we want us to be obviously right now, and we know, however, that we can make a tremendous impact in slowing this virus down,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. The latest surge of cases in B.C. is concentrated in the Interior Health region, with the “vast majority” in the Central Okanagan. The area includes Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and Rutland. 

Gatherings in the Central Okanagan will be limited as follows, as of August 9:

  • Outdoor gatherings, like birthday parties or backyard BBQs — maximum 50 people.
  • Indoor personal gatherings — maximum five people or one additional household.
  • Indoor/outdoor organized and seated gatherings, such as weddings — maximum 50 people. 
  • Vacation rentals, like houseboats or Airbnbs: Maximum of five guests in addition to occupants.
  • A mask mandate remains in effect. High intensity indoor fitness classes are cancelled, but low intensity workouts at fitness centres are still permitted.

The restriction apply to everybody in the Central Okanagan, vaccinated and unvaccinated. “Right now, when we’re seeing a lot of transmission of a highly transmissible virus, we have to take measures to protect everyone,” said Henry.

Around 95% of COVID-19 patients in hospital in B.C. as of August 6 had not been vaccinated or had received only one dose. None of the patients in intensive care were vaccinated, Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

Source: CBC