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Calm before the storm for Japan suicides as coronavirus ravages economy – The Province

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A volunteer responds an incoming call at the Tokyo Befrienders call center, a Tokyo’s suicide hotline center, during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tokyo, Japan May 26, 2020.

ISSEI KATO / REUTERS

“There are so many people who want to connect and talk to somebody, but the fact is we can’t answer all of them”

TOKYO — The phones at the Tokyo suicide hotline start ringing as soon as it opens for its once-weekly overnight session. They don’t stop until the lone volunteer fielding calls from hundreds of people yearning to talk signs out early the next morning.

Both operating days and volunteer numbers at the volunteer-run Tokyo Befrienders call center have been cut to avoid coronavirus infection, but the desperate need remains.

“There are so many people who want to connect and talk to somebody, but the fact is we can’t answer all of them,” center director Machiko Nakayama told Reuters.

Health workers fear the pandemic’s economic shock will return Japan to 14 dark years from 1998 when more than 30,000 people took their lives annually. With the grim distinction of the highest suicide rate among G7 nations, Japan adopted legal and corporate changes that helped lower the toll to just over 20,000 last year.

Worried the current crisis will reverse that downward trend, frontline workers are urging the government to boost both fiscal aid and practical support.

“We need to take steps now, before the deaths begin,” said Hisao Sato, head of an NGO that provides counseling and economic advice in Akita, a northern prefecture long known for Japan’s worst suicide rate.

National suicides fell 20% year-on-year in April, the first month of the country’s soft lockdown, but experts said that was likely due to an internationally recognized phenomenon in which suicides decrease during crises, only to rise afterwards.

“It’s the quiet before the storm, but the clouds are upon us,” Sato said.

Prevention workers see echoes of 1998 when a sales tax hike and the Asian economic crisis first drove annual suicides above 30,000, then to a peak of almost 34,500 in 2003.

Economic circumstance is the second biggest reason for suicides, behind health, according to 2019 police data, which also shows that men are nearly three times more likely to kill themselves than women, and most are in the 40-60 age group.

The current crisis, which is forecast to shrink Japan’s economy 22.2 percent this quarter, is especially dangerous for cash-strapped small and medium-sized businesses for whom government subsidies might not arrive in time.

“It’s tough. A lot of people are really worried,” said Shinnosuke Hirose, chief executive of a small human resources firm that has lost nearly 90% of its business. “It’s like waiting at the execution grounds to see if they survive or not.”

A Health Ministry official in charge of suicide policy told Reuters his department planned to ask for more money from a $1.1 trillion central government stimulus package to help fund measures such as extra hotlines. The official, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak on the record, added there were limits to central government action and local efforts were crucial.

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Some believe the steps taken in recent years to bring down the suicide rate will hold firm through the current crisis, but others are not so sure.

Kyoto University’s Resilience Research Unit has predicted 2,400 more suicides for each 1% rise in unemployment. If the virus subsides in a year, unemployment could peak at around 6% by March, lifting annual suicides to around 34,000, it estimated. If pandemic conditions persist for two years, a rise to 8% unemployment by March 2022 would see suicides spike over 39,000.

“Of course social support is important … but they won’t be able to ramp this up suddenly,” said unit director Satoshi Fujii. “Preventing bankruptcies will start helping immediately.”

At the Tokyo Befrienders call center, the phones continue to ring. The formerly nightly service now opens on Tuesdays only, with one volunteer a shift instead of four, although it plans to reinstate another day in June.

“Everyone has tried hard to get through lockdown, but now they’ll reflect and think ‘why was I doing it? What hope do I have?’” Nakayama said. “At that time I think a lot could choose death.” (Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Jane Wardell)

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U.S. economy may be stalling out as viral outbreak worsens – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Christopher Rugaber, The Associated Press


Published Thursday, July 9, 2020 3:47PM EDT

WASHINGTON – The U.S. economy is stumbling as the viral outbreak intensifies, threatening to slow hiring and deepening the uncertainty for employees, consumers and companies across the country.

Coronavirus case counts are rising in 38 states, and the nation as a whole has been shattering single-day records for new confirmed cases. In six states representing one-third of the economy – Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, and Texas – governors are reversing their reopening plans. Reopening efforts are on pause in 15 other states.

The reversals are keeping layoffs elevated and threatening to weaken hiring. More than 1.3 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, down from 1.4 million the previous week but still roughly double the pre-pandemic weekly record. Applications had fallen steadily in April and May but have barely declined in the past month.

Jobless claims “are stalled out at a new normal of over a million new claims every week,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at Glassdoor. “The virus is in the driver’s seat and we’re along for the ride until the current public health crisis is resolved.”

Some economists have even warned that a so-called “double-dip” recession, in which the economy shrinks again after rebounding, could develop. Consumers, the primary driver of U.S. economic growth, are pulling back on spending in restaurants and bars, especially in the hardest-hit states. Some small businesses are closing, either under government orders or because of a lack of customers, according to private data.

Several companies have warned in recent days that more layoffs are coming. Levi’s, the iconic jeans maker, said it will cut 700 corporate jobs. United Airlines has warned 36,000 of its employees – nearly half its workforce – that they could lose their jobs in October. (Airlines aren’t allowed to cut jobs until then as a condition of accepting billions of dollars in government rescue aid.) Motorcycle maker Harley Davidson said it will eliminate 700 corporate jobs.

The pandemic drove Walgreens to a deep loss in the most recent quarter, with customers staying home or limiting shopping to essential supplies from grocery stores. Walgreens will cut 4,000 jobs at its pharmacy chain Boots in the United Kingdom. Bed Bath & Beyond said it will close 200 stores over the next two years as its sales have slid.

The uncertainty fanned by the pandemic has led many CEOs to abandon their forecasts for second-quarter results. Just as with the economy, forecasters say it could take years for corporate earnings to return to the levels they were at before the pandemic.

With reported viral cases surging, restaurant visits are falling in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, which together account for half of new confirmed infections. This week, in Arizona, restaurant traffic was down 65% from a year earlier, worse than the 50% year-over-year drop two weeks earlier, according to data from reservation app OpenTable. In Florida, traffic was down 57%, compared with 45% two weeks before.

Last week, applications for U.S. unemployment benefits spiked in Texas, Nevada, Tennessee and Louisiana – states where confirmed cases of the virus are intensifying. They also jumped in New Jersey and New York, where the pandemic is mostly under control, but where reopening steps have been postponed.

Applications dropped in California and Florida, though in California they remained high, with more than 267,000 claims. That is more people than were applying each week for unemployment benefits in the entire country before the pandemic hit. Jobless claims also declined in Michigan and Colorado.

The total number of people receiving jobless benefits fell 700,000 to 18 million. That suggests that some companies are continuing to rehire a limited number of workers. An additional 1 million people sought benefits last week under a separate program for self-employed and gig workers that has made them eligible for aid for the first time. These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the official count.

In New Jersey, about 4,000 people had expected to return to their jobs last week at casinos in Atlantic City, after Gov. Phil Murphy said they could fully reopen. But Murphy later said the casinos couldn’t reopen their restaurants and bars because indoor dining was too risky. Employees who had hoped to return to work feel whipsawed.

“I wanted this nightmare to go away,” said Mineli Polanco, a beverage server at Borgata, a hotel and casino. “That first call was such a relief: things were going back to normal. Then the second call came, and it was a new nightmare.”

Signs of a weakening jobs picture suggest a turnaround from last week’s jobs report for June, which showed a solid gain of 4.8 million jobs and an unemployment rate that fell to 11.1% from 13.3%. But the June jobs report reflected surveys of Americans that were conducted in the middle of that month – before the pandemic flared up again. And even counting that hiring gain, the economy has regained only about one-third of the jobs that vanished in March and April.

Credit card data from both Bank of America and J.P.Morgan Chase show that spending has slipped in the past two weeks, even in states that don’t have sharp outbreaks.

“This suggests that renewed fears about the virus, rather than government restrictions, are driving the pullback in activity,” said Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, a forecasting firm.

Among retailers, the number of shifts worked changed little last week after steady increases in previous weeks, according to data from Kronos, which makes scheduling software. David Gilbertson, a vice-president at Kronos, said this indicates that consumer demand in many cases hasn’t picked up enough to justify more employees.

“Everything that’s going to be open is open,” Gilbertson said. “Now, we just need more people to come in and start spending money before things can pick up again.”

The renewed threat of job losses is arising just as a federal program that provides $600 a week in unemployment benefits, on top of whatever jobless aid each state provides, is to expire at the end of this month. Congressional leaders have said they will take up some form of a new rescue package when lawmakers return later this month from a recess.

Administration officials have expressed support for additional stimulus. But Senate Republicans have opposed extending the $600 a week in unemployment benefits, mainly on the ground that it discourages laid-off people from returning to work. House Democrats have pushed to extend the $600 a week through January.

In an interview Thursday on CNBC, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested that the administration might support an extension of supplemental unemployment aid but at a reduced level.

“We’re going to make sure people are (incentivized) to go back to jobs,” Mnuchin said.

AP Writer Wayne Parry in Atlantic City contributed to this report.

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Canada Supports Inclusive Growth Through Economic Recovery – Canada NewsWire

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OTTAWA, ON, July 9, 2020 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is committed to innovation and building a clean energy future. This commitment will be more important than ever as we begin to reopen the economy and plan our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, today participated in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Clean Energy Transitions Summit, the first IEA ministerial-level meeting entirely dedicated to the clean energy future. Minister O’Regan joined leaders from governments and industries around the world to discuss actions for sustainable recovery and clean energy technology innovation.

Minister O’Regan led a ministerial session on inclusive growth, which focused on placing people and communities at the heart of economic recovery and the long-term transition to a clean energy future. In recognition of the unprecedented and extensive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, he highlighted the importance of taking action to support workers and create the conditions for a more inclusive workforce.

Governments and industries alike have an opportunity to create more equitable and inclusive employment growth. Mobilizing the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups, including women, youth, racialized groups and Indigenous peoples, will be vital to the post-COVID-19 recovery and long-term economic growth.

Minister O’Regan also announced that Canada is leading the development of a reporting framework under the Equal by 30 initiative that will enable signatories to track and report on the concrete actions they are taking to close the gender gap across the energy sector. Led by Natural Resources Canada, Equal by 30 is a global campaign under the international Clean Energy Education and Empowerment (C3E) Initiative, a joint effort by the Clean Energy Ministerial and the International Energy Agency to advance gender equality in the energy sector. To date, close to 150 organizations across the energy sector, including governments, companies and non-profit institutions, have taken the Equal by 30 pledge. 

The government remains committed to building a clean energy future that will not only support our natural resource sectors through this tough economic time but also grow the economy and create good jobs. 

Quotes

“Greater diversity and gender equality in the energy sector isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do. Through the Equal by 30 campaign, we are putting people at the centre of our clean energy future.”

The Honourable Seamus O’Regan 
Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources

Associated Links

Equal by 30
Diversio

Follow us on Twitter: @NRCan (http://twitter.com/nrcan)

SOURCE Natural Resources Canada

For further information: Natural Resources Canada, Media Relations, 343-292-6100, [email protected]; Ian Cameron, Press Secretary, Office of the Minister of Natural Resources, 613-447-3488, [email protected]

Related Links

www.nrcan.gc.ca

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Ontario Expanding Access to the Modern Digital Economy – Government of Ontario News

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Application intake for broadband and cellular program opens today

The Ontario government is expanding access to reliable broadband and cellular service in underserved and unserved parts of the province. The application intake for the $150 million Improving Connectivity for Ontario program (ICON) opens today. This funding will help drive economic investment and job creation across the province, while allowing more people to work from home more efficiently, engage in online learning, and connect with family and friends.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 reinforced the need to improve access to reliable broadband and cellular service as more people work and learn from home in order to practice physical distancing,” said Laurie Scott, Minister of Infrastructure. “By making these investments we will help to ensure every region in the province can participate in the modern digital economy, and contribute to Ontario’s economic recovery.”    

Any areas across Ontario that do not meet the national standards for broadband speeds would be eligible for provincial funding. Up to 12 per cent of households in the province – mostly in rural, remote or northern areas – don’t have adequate broadband service, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Telecommunication service providers, municipalities, Indigenous communities and non-profits are invited to submit innovative proposals and lend their investment, expertise and experience to improve connectivity in communities across Ontario. The preliminary application deadline for the first intake of the ICON program is August 21, 2020.

The province’s investment of $150 million announced today is part of the $315 million Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan. This action plan has the potential to leverage up to $1 billion in partner funding for broadband infrastructure investments.

Quick Facts

  • On June 3, 2020, Ontario announced the ICON program, a multi-year plan which aims to support approved projects as early as 2021.
  • National standards for adequate broadband service are defined by speeds known as 50/10 (50 megabits per second download, and 10 megabits for upload).
  • Over the past several months, Ontario has partnered with the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) to leverage $213 million to improve cellular access in eastern Ontario.
  • The Province is investing in the $190 million Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to bring high-speed broadband to 50,000 more homes and businesses across Southwestern Ontario.
  • Ontario has invested in initiatives to improve connectivity in Northern Ontario, such as a project that will connect five remote Matawa First Nations communities, seven broadband projects that will support rural and Indigenous communities, and the Next Generation Network Program.

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