Some Self-Employed Canadians Caught up in CERB Confusion Won’t Have to Repay 

Some self-employed Canadians are being let off the hook on repayment of thousands of dollars received through the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on February 9. 

“For people who accessed CERB based on their gross income instead of net income — as long as you met the other eligibility criteria, you will not have to return your CERB payments,” he said. “When we rolled out CERB last March, it was because people needed help in the face of a global, once-in-a-generation crisis.”

A government source not authorized to speak publicly said that self-employed Canadians who applied for CERB, and who would have qualified based on their gross income, will no longer be required to repay — provided they met all the other eligibility requirements. This policy applies regardless of whether applicants accessed CERB through the Canada Revenue Agency or through Service Canada.

Those who meet that description and have already voluntarily repaid their CERB will see the money returned to them, according to the source.

In November and December of last year, some 441,000 Canadians received so-called education letters from the CRA saying they may not have met the requirements for the thousands of dollars in CERB payments they had received and might have to pay the money back.

Some self-employed Canadians said they were being told by the tax agency that the problem was related to how they calculated whether they met the benefit threshold: $5,000 in income in 2019 or in the last 12 months. Many reached out CBC News to say they believed that meant all income, since there was no mention of expenses. The CRA insisted self-employment income always refers to “net, pre-tax income,” or gross income minus expenses.

But the CRA didn’t always explain it that way to taxpayers. The Union of Taxation Employees revealed that its members had been given the wrong information on how income would be calculated — and passed that incorrect information along to CRA callers for about three weeks before the problem was corrected.

The federal government is also expected to announce that Canadians with pandemic benefit debt will have up to a year to repay the amounts owing without accumulating any interest. The move applies to those who made up to $75,000 in taxable income in 2020 and received one of the federal government’s five pandemic relief benefits or employment insurance benefits.

Source: CBC

Alberta Restaurants, Bars Reopen to Indoor Customers

As of February 8, Alberta restaurants can reopen for in-person dining as part of the province’s four-step plan to reopen the economy. Premier Jason Kenney says reduced case numbers have made it possible to ease some restrictions, but he has also criticized some restaurants for ignoring public health orders by opening their doors prematurely.

Fitness training can also resume as of February 8, but only for one-on-one workouts — individual workouts without a trainer are not permitted. Sports and entertainment-related activities can resume in schools, and the province also said that youth will be able to take part in lessons and practices for team-based minor sports and athletics, although games are still prohibited.

Indoor gatherings are still banned and outdoor get-togethers are capped at 10.

The plan has been criticized by some as too risky given there are more than 500 Albertans still in hospital with COVID-19 and more than 60 cases of two variant strains of the virus. The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association wants the staged reopening shelved given the uncertainty of the variants. The Opposition NDP says the province has put small- and medium-sized businesses in a no-win situation by not providing supports they need to stay closed and pushing them to move forward with risky re-openings.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, says the new strains are a concern, but adds more resources have been put in place to deal with them, including the capability of testing 300 positive cases a day for the variants. As for the reopening, Hinshaw has said comparable provinces like British Columbia and Saskatchewan have similar per-capita COVID-19 rates with comparable economic measures.

There is a minimum three-week lag between stages to fully assess the impact on case rates. Both Hinshaw and Kenney have said if the reopening must be paused or rolled back, it will be.

The four-stage scenario is tied mainly to hospitalization rates. Stage 1 is moving ahead because there are fewer than 600 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19. When fewer than 450 are hospitalized, there is to be a further easing of restrictions on hotels, retailers and conference centres. Right now, retailers are open at 15% capacity.

If there are fewer than 300 COVID-19 patients in hospital, entertainment venues — including casinos, cinemas, theatres and art galleries — will be able to open and the 15 % capacity limit for faith-based services will be eased. Large events such as indoor concerts, trade shows, and weddings are to get the green light when there are fewer than 150 hospital cases.

Source: Toronto Star 

New Brunswick Loosening Restrictions in Moncton and Edmundston Regions.

As of midnight on the night of February 8, restrictions were loosened in the Moncton and Edmundston regions, and Public Health has reported just two new cases — the lowest case numbers since New Year’s Day.  

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said the Edmundston region, Zone 4, will move from lockdown to the red alert level, and the Moncton region, Zone 1, will move from red to orange.

At a live-streamed update on February 8, Russell noted that the changes “do not mean the virus has been eradicated … it means the risk of transmission has lessened. But the risks are still there and the risks of the variants are still there.”

Red and orange refreshers: A rules reminder

Here’s a quick refresher of the rules in these phases:

The rules of red 

  • Residents must spend time only within their single household bubble, which may be extended if necessary  to include a caregiver, a family member who needs support from someone within the household and one other person who needs support.
  • Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools can reopen with stronger health and safety measures in place. 
  • In Zone 4, francophone schools will reopen on February 9 and anglophone schools on February 10.
  • More retail establishments are permitted to open with an operational plan, but salons, gyms and entertainment venues must remain closed.
  • Restaurants may only offer drive-thru, take-out and delivery options.

The rules of orange

  • Residents may spend time with their household and an additional 10 people in their steady 10 list of contacts. These people cannot change from one week to the next.
  • Businesses such as gyms, salons and entertainment venues may reopen.
  • Restaurant dining rooms may also reopen, but restaurants must keep a list of names and contact numbers of all diners to help with contact tracing.

Rotational workers ‘bearing a heavier burden’

Rotational workers have been speaking out about how strict new measures have been affecting their families since they were introduced by Public Health on Jan. 29.

Before the changes, workers could leave isolation early with a negative test. Under the new rules, they must self-isolate for 14 days away from others. If family members are present, the entire household must self-isolate. 

Russell repeatedly said she knows the new rules have caused “heartbreaking” hardships for rotational workers and their families but said the dramatically heightened risks posed by variants in the coronavirus have left Public Health no choice. “Please understand that we don’t take these sacrifices lightly,” Russell said. “I know you are bearing a heavier burden in this fight compared to others … and I want to thank all the rotational workers for the sacrifice they’re making to keep New Brunswickers safe from COVID-19.”

Dr. Russel said, “people who are travelling are at higher risk of becoming infected … and therefore of bringing that risk into the province, and that risk has been escalating since the summer.” A full 14-day self-isolation away from family members works, Russell said. 

Asked for numbers on how many cases have been traced to rotational worker travel and how many to more frequent cross-border travel by workers deemed essential, Russell said that from December to January, about “about 35 of the 86 travel-related cases were from essential workers.” However, she said, about 35% of travellers in that time period fell into the category of essential workers, “which included the rotational workers.”

It also included truck drivers, health-care workers and people who live on the border who have to come into the province every day. “What we really want the message to be is we’re trying to minimize the risk of anybody bringing COVID-19 into the province, period,” Russell said.

In the zone: Russell urges caution for March Break

Dr. Jennifer Russell is strongly advising that New Brunswick residents, including students, avoid leaving the country, the province and even their own health zone during the upcoming Family Day long weekend or March Break.

Russell noted that anyone who does choose to travel outside of the province must follow all border protection measures and self-isolation guidelines, which include self-isolating for 14 days apart from other people upon returning to the province. “As tired as we all are of this pandemic, this is not the time to relax.”

Source: CBC

Ontario Will Let More Businesses Reopen, Gradually Lift Stay-at-Home Orders

Non-essential retailers in Ontario will be allowed to reopen at limited capacity when stay-at-home orders are lifted, the provincial government said on February 8, as three public health units are set to see COVID-19 restrictions loosened.

Premier Doug Ford announced the changes as part of his government’s plan to gradually move all of Ontario’s 34 public health units back to a colour-coded reopening framework. Ontario has been in a provincewide “lockdown” since Dec. 26, and a stay-at-home order was added four weeks ago.

The following public health units will move into the green category — the least stringent in terms of COVID-19 restrictions — on February 10:

  • Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health 
  • Renfrew County and District Health Unit

The stay-at-home order will be lifted then in those health units as well.

The order will remain in place in the rest of Ontario until Feb. 16, when it could be lifted in 28 more public health units depending upon COVID-19 trends at the time, the government said. In Toronto and Peel and York regions, however, the order is set to stay in effect until at least Feb. 22.

In the coming weeks, the province will progressively move more regions back into the colour-coded system, which includes the green, yellow, orange, red and grey “lockdown” stages.

For now, though, all except the three public health units listed above will stay under the stay-at-home order. As part of the announcement, the province detailed some changes to the set of restrictions that apply to areas in lockdown once stay-at-home orders expire.  Chief among them is that non-essential retailers in the grey zones will be allowed to open their doors with a 25% capacity limit. The province said the move is to “support the province’s economic recovery.”

The same applies to some other businesses, including discount and big box retailers, liquor stores, hardware stores and garden centres. Retailers will also need to have a system in place for “patron screening,” the province said.

Meanwhile, the 50% capacity limit for in-person shopping at essential retailers, such as supermarkets and other stores that primarily sell groceries, as well as convenience stores and pharmacies, will stay in place. Personal care services, however, are to remain closed. 

Gatherings at residences are still prohibited, but outdoor events and social gatherings of up to 10 people with two metres of distance are allowed, with masks strongly encouraged. Funerals, weddings and baptisms are also allowed, with 10 people either indoors or outdoors, with two metres of distance between them. Religious gatherings are similarly capped at 10 people indoors with two metres between them, and masks are mandatory. Virtual and drive-in religious services are also allowed.

Indoor recreational fitness facilities remain closed, but outdoor recreational amenities like rinks, trails, and ski hills are allowed to open with restrictions. 

Ford also said that ICUs across the province are still under “immense pressure,” and Ontario is seeing “significant delays” with vaccine supply. Both Ford and Minister of Health Christine Elliott warned that the spectre of new COVID-19 variants still loom over Ontario as well, with variant cases being found in several areas of the province. “This is not a reopening or a return to normal. It is an acknowledgement that we are making steady progress,” Elliott said.

Elliott also noted the province is instituting an “emergency brake” in its plan to quickly move a region into lockdown if it experiences a rapid increase in cases, or if its health-care system becomes overwhelmed.

More students go back to school

More of Ontario’s schools reopened to in-person learning on February 8. But in three COVID-19 hot spots — Toronto, Peel and York Region — schools will remain closed until Feb. 16. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is taking a number of steps to enhance safety in schools, such as more stringent screening for high schoolers and asymptomatic testing across the province.

Source: CBC
Source: Toronto Star

Quebec Reports Lowest Daily COVID-19 Cases in Weeks, Non-Essential Stores Reopen

On February 8, Quebec reported its lowest daily infection count in weeks as non-essential retail stores, personal-care salons and museums reopened across the province following a strict lockdown. In six, less populated regions, including the Gaspe peninsula and the Saguenay area north of Quebec City, gyms and in-person dining were also permitted to reopen.

Quebec reported 853 new cases of COVID-19 and 17 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two that occurred in the previous 24 hours. Hospitalizations rose by six, to 969, and 160 people were in intensive care, an increase of two.

Universities and junior colleges were allowed to partially reopen on February 8. Classes across most of the province were permitted to resume at 50% capacity, while in the six outlying regions, they could open fully as long as physical distancing was maintained.

And while the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has dropped in recent weeks, the government has said it’s still too early to remove measures such as the nighttime, province wide curfew.

The six, less-populated regions moved into the lower, “orange” pandemic-alert level on February 8, and the curfew’s start was pushed back to 9:30 p.m. The rest of the province, including Montreal and Quebec City, remain in the “red” level and under an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

Quebec is also allowing people across the province to participate in outdoor activities with people outside their households. Residents in most of the province will be able to meet outside with up to three people from other households, while in orange zones, the limit will be increased to eight.

Indoor gatherings are still prohibited, and bars remain closed. The government continues to require anyone who can work from home to do so.

Restaurants in orange zones will only be allowed to seat two adults and their children at each table. Reservations will be mandatory to facilitate contact tracing and to prevent people from outside the region from travelling for a dinner out.

The reopening of non-essential retail shops comes as a huge sigh of relief for some of the industry’s sectors that have faced the most headwinds during the pandemic, such as clothing stores. “Fashion being seasonal, the season for winter wasn’t over, because it’s usually during Boxing Week that we start liquidating all the stock, and into early January,” The Retail Council of Canada’s Quebec President Marc Fortin told Global News. “Well, now we’re in February and there’s still a lot of winter inventory. That’s cashflow being tied into inventory.”

Fortin added that the economic health of retail sectors like fashion have a much greater impact than just the salespeople in malls. “We’ve had so many (companies), like Aldo, Reitmans, Tristan, Panda, and others, went under bankruptcy protection,” he said. “And what’s sad is in the fashion industry, a lot of the head offices are here in Quebec.”

Source: Global News