Canada Needs Lockdown Alternatives, More Small Business Aid: CFIB 

Owners of restaurants in Ontario reacted with anger on April 1 at news that the province will ban all indoor and outdoor dining service for four weeks as part of an “emergency brake” to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurateurs said it’s unfair that they are unable to serve their customers in person when other businesses are allowed to remain open with restrictions.

“I feel like nobody knows what they’re doing. And it’s really scary,” said Pam Viinikka, co-owner of two restaurants, The Cornerstone and the Log Cabin Tavern, in Kenora in northern Ontario. “There was no lockdown when we had 100 cases and now they’re making us lock down with only 11 and that’s just ridiculous to me,” she said. “”It doesn’t make sense that you can have 300 people in Walmart but you can’t have two people in a small business.“ She said her restaurants enjoy good community support in terms of takeout and delivery orders but the dining ban will hurt many of her 35 employees and will halt a recent hiring campaign.

The new restrictions are a “kick in the teeth,” said Mark Kitching, owner of Waldo’s on King in London, Ont., who says he will be laying off many of his 16 employees and throwing out unneeded food. “My business is booming. Sales are up over 2019, all the staff are back on board, the customers are happy. And now … although nobody has proven to anybody that restaurants are spreaders, we become the target again,” he said.

The changes are going to be “devastating” for members of his organization, said Todd Barclay, CEO of Restaurants Canada, who said the province must offer compensation to restaurateurs for money spent over the past two weeks and to cover rent, utilities and other costs for the duration of the lockdown. “Two weeks ago, medical officers of health were out discussing the fact that outdoor gathering is good for mental health and is a safe way for people to congregate,” he said in an interview. “The lockdown should be across all sectors, because effectively what I’m hearing they’re going to do is what’s been happening in Toronto for the last six months and it hasn’t worked.”

The recent easing of rules allowed outdoor dining with physical distancing in the grey zones like Toronto and nearby Peel Region, after months of only allowing takeout and deliveries.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that it wants all governments to look at alternatives to lockdowns and increased financial support for small businesses as several provinces move to tougher restrictions. “Small businesses are tired of being a scapegoat for the Ontario government’s lack of planning or foresight,” said Ryan Mallough, CFIB director of provincial affairs for Ontario, in a statement. He said Toronto and Peel have been largely shut down since November while COVID-19 cases rise and fall with thousands of small businesses never seeing a single customer.

CFIB president Dan Kelly says the first two shutdowns were devastating, with one in six businesses considering permanent closure. The group says a survey found that two thirds of small businesses would consider using COVID-19 rapid tests to remain open. CFIB says Canadian small businesses on average have taken on $170,000 in COVID-19-related debt. It says three quarters of respondents said it will take more than a year to pay off.

Source: Global News

Canada Must Continue Investing in Its Economy to Exit Pandemic More Quickly 

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos says one lesson learned from recessions and depressions past is to veer away from under-investing in the economy as a crisis comes to an end. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip much of the country, it’s advice he’s backing as the federal government maps out its economic recovery from the global public health emergency. 

“There is unfortunately … a tendency to under react, to be under prepared and to be under reactive … to the challenges posed either by the health or economic crisis,” the former economics professor said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live. “That is a very unfortunate outcome because it means that we are then faced with higher unemployment, lower growth, lower living standards for Canadians and therefore lower taxes and greater deficits over the longer term.”

When the first federal budget in two years is presented later this month, it’s expected to include details of Ottawa’s three-year stimulus plan, which is valued between $70 billion and $100 billion and is intended to spark the country’s post-pandemic recovery. In a pre-budget outlook published last week, Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said the temporary package could provide a “significant boost” to Canada’s economy, but cautioned it could potentially result in “materially larger budget deficits.”

The stimulus plan was not factored into the PBO’s overall report due to a lack of details about the package. The spending watchdog projected the government would run a $363.4 billion deficit in the 2020-21 fiscal year — lower than the $381 billion figure Ottawa predicted last fall. But the PBO noted the deficit should decrease in the years ahead — and projected employment would return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.

When ask whether pandemic support for Canadians should continue to be extended, Duclos said the government plans to help “for as long as it takes.” The PBO estimate had been crafted with the assumption that a so-called “third wave” of COVID-19 cases and infections of coronavirus variants would not be severe, particularly as more Canadians get vaccinated. 

Source: CBC

Nova Scotia Opens to Newfoundland and Labrador, other COVID-19 Restrictions Eased 

People in Newfoundland and Labrador will soon be able to enter Nova Scotia without having to self-isolate, Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin announced on April 6.  With this change, all Atlantic Canadians will now be able to enter Nova Scotia without the need to quarantine for 14 days. However, travel restrictions for entering New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador are still in place.

The Council of Atlantic Premiers had previously announced that it planned to open up the Atlantic bubble, which permits residents from the four Atlantic provinces to travel freely between them, by April 19. Rankin said that is still the plan, but he is watching the neighbouring provinces closely.

Other restrictions eased

Nova Scotia’s decision relating to Newfoundland and Labrador, along with other eased restrictions will take effect April 7 at 8 a.m. Rankin said malls, retail business and fitness facilities can also return to operating at 100% capacity on April 7, with physical distancing. And sports practices, training and games, along with arts and culture rehearsals and performances can now have 75%. Rankin said while physical distancing and masks are not required for these activities, they are recommended when possible. Spectators can continue to attend these events except when they’re held at schools, Rankin said.

“Thanks to your hard work, we’re able to keep our cases low and we’re able to open up a bit more,” he said. “But again, we’ll monitor this very closely and be nimble as we have been and shut down when we need to.”

Source: CBC

Ontario Imposes Stay-At-Home Order as COVID-19 Cases Surge But Stops Short of Instituting Paid Sick Days

Ontario has declared its third province wide state of emergency as the number of COVID-19 cases surge, issuing a stay-at-home order effective 12:01 a.m. on April 8. The province is also expanding vaccine eligibility for more people over the age of 18 in regions hardest hit by the virus, starting with Toronto and Peel Region.

Premier Doug Ford said mobile teams are being organized to offer vaccines to those 18 and over in high-risk congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based locations and locations occupied by large employers in hot-spot neighbourhoods. Education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods will be allowed to book vaccinations starting next week, he said. If vaccination supplies stay consistent, Ford said, 40% of Ontario adults should be vaccinated by the end of the four-week stay-at-home order.

These new measures do not include paid sick days despite repeated calls by medical professionals, including the medical officers of health from Toronto, Peel and Ottawa. Ford argues that there is a paid sick leave program from the federal government. However, critics say the program provides less money than a full-time, minimum-wage salary, involves processing delays of up to four weeks, and doesn’t guarantee job security for workers who use it. 

What does the order include?

The stay-at-home order requires all Ontarians to remain at home except for essential purposes such as grocery shopping, accessing health-care services (including COVID-19 vaccinations), work that cannot be done remotely and exercise close to home with only those from one’s household. Non-essential retailers will be limited to curbside pick-up and delivery. Access to malls will be limited to specific purposes such as curbside pick-up. Big-box store retail will also be limited to selling essential items such as groceries, household supplies, pharmacy items and personal care items.

Schools and child care will remain open in public health regions that permit them to be open. The province says new measures will be introduced following the spring break next week, including asymptomatic testing at assessment centres between April 12 and April 18, confirmation of self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival to school and refresher training on safety protocols for students and staff. Residential evictions will also be halted. 

Capacity will be limited to 25% and by appointment only at safety supply stores, optical stores, businesses selling motor vehicles, boat and other watercraft, vehicle repair and rental, telecommunications retailers. Garden centres and nurseries can continue to operate with 25% capacity.

The move comes in the wake of criticism that restrictions announced during the week of March 29 — what the government called “emergency brake” measures — are insufficient to slow the spread of Ontario’s third wave of COVID-19. Pressure has grown in recent days on the Ford government to tighten public health measures and ensure better protections for the province’s essential workers.

The top public health doctors in Toronto and Peel Region also ordered the closure of schools, sending nearly 600,000 students to online-only classes just days ahead of a rescheduled week-long spring break. Students in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph health unit are similarly shifting to online learning for the time being.

Source: CBC 

Quebec Imposes Lockdown for 3 Cities

Quebec Premier François Legault announced a tightening of COVID-19 restrictions ahead of the Easter long weekend, as the third wave of the pandemic takes hold in the province. As of April 1, four regions are being upgraded to red zones, the maximum alert level in the province, including the Outaouais, Capitale Nationale, Chaudières-Appalaches and Bas Saint-Laurent.

Special emergency measures will be enacted in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau where cases are rising almost exponentially, according to Legault. “This is why I’m announcing that Quebec, Lévis and Gatineau, will be on pause for 10 days, until April 12,” he said.

Schools, non-essential businesses, theatres, cinemas, gyms and restaurant dining rooms, among others, will all be closed starting April 1 at 8 p.m. Restaurants will be allowed to continue doing takeout and delivery only. Businesses that are being allowed to remain open are not allowed to sell non-essential items. The 8 p.m. curfew is also being brought back in those three cities.

Legault said financial help would be made available to businesses once again forced to close down. He also stressed that while closures might be difficult, they are necessary to get the economy back on track.

School day care services will be kept open, but for essential workers only, as classes will be held online. “For regular child care, we ask parents who can, to keep their children at home,” Legault said.

Places of worship are being kept open, but will be limited to a maximum of 25 people.

When asked whether travel in and out of the affected cities would be restricted or controlled, Health Minister Christian Dubé said that various scenarios were being looked at but for Gatineau only, due to its proximity with Ottawa. “We will find a way to make sure that there is less communication,” he said, adding that discussions were underway with provincial counterparts in Ontario to “make arrangements.”

While no specific measures are planned to limit travel in Quebec City and neighbouring Lévis, Quebec’s top doctor said it should be avoided. “It’s highly, highly, highly not recommended to go to those zones because there is active transmission,” said Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda.

Legault urged residents in those areas to stay at home to reduce the number of contacts and avoid spreading the virus. He also called on all Quebecers provincewide to be more careful and abide by public health guidelines. “With the variants, we can see an explosion of cases within a few days,” he said, adding the government is “ready to act quickly and strongly if the situation worsens in other regions.”

Source: Global News 

Alberta Returns to Step 1 of Restrictions as COVID-19 Variant Cases Rise

Alberta is reverting to Step 1 of COVID-19 restrictions and will shut down indoor dining as cases of the COVID-19 variants of concern increase across the province. As of midnight on April 6, the government will reduce retail capacity to 15%, close libraries, only allow one-on-one training and prohibit activities such as dancing and singing. And on April 9, restaurants, bars and cafes must close indoor dining, but can remain open for outdoor patio dining, takeout and curbside pickup. Indoor gatherings are still banned, outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and places of worship continue to be restricted to 15% occupancy.

“We believe, based on the current trajectory, that if we don’t slow down this curve that we are set to hit the maximum capacity of our system in mid-May,” Premier Jason Kenney said. “We can only do this together to prevent a long situation, a huge wave that causes massive cancellations of surgeries in our hospitals, and hundreds of preventable deaths,” he said.

The premier also announced the Path to Recovery, a number of stages with vaccination targets paired with reopening. “By the end of May, that will be almost half of our population and by the end of June, it’ll be almost two-thirds with some level of protection, and by mid-September if Albertans take us up on the vaccines as I hope they will, almost three quarters of Albertans will have a good degree of immunity,” Kenney said. Alberta will share more details on its Path to Recovery later in April.

Source: CTV News