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Extension to CERB being worked on, coming soon: PM – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is looking at extending the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and is promising an update by the end of the week.

“For now, all I can say is that we will continue to be there to support Canadians,” Trudeau said.

By the first week of July and through the summer, millions of Canadians will come to the end of their 16-week eligibility period to claim CERB, which has prompted questions about what will happen to those who have been on the program since it first launched and have already accessed the full $8,000 available, but are still out of a job and without income due to COVID-19.

The prime minister announced on Monday that because so many are still struggling, the government is “working on a solution to extend the benefit for people who can’t return to work yet.”

“If you’re having trouble finding a job, you shouldn’t also be worrying about whether you’ll hit the limit of your CERB benefits,” Trudeau said.

The first application period opened in early April, and Canadians are able to claim the benefit for a maximum of 16 weeks between March 15 and October 3, meaning there will still be Canadians receiving funding for weeks to come, but others are soon going to run out. There are also Canadians who could be coming up to the end of their benefit payments earlier if they were rolled onto the program from the Employment Insurance program at the very outset.

Close to 1.2 million Canadians have dropped off the program before maxing out their 16-week eligibility, meaning they have either gone back to work or have been moved onto the wage subsidy program through their employer.

As of June 4, the federal government has spent a total of $43.5 billion sending more than 8.4 million Canadians the $2,000 monthly payments. An extension—as the NDP have called for— would amount to approximately $17 billion each month the program remains in place under the current parameters.

“Whether it’s to cover the bills, to keep people on the payroll, or to make rent on a storefront, many Canadians need a hand right now,” Trudeau said.

The government’s initial intention was to gradually wean people off CERB and onto the federal wage subsidy program, which was rolled out with the promise of seeing millions of out-of-work Canadians be put back on their employer’s payroll, though the number of companies applying to receive the 75 per cent subsidy has been less than anticipated. 

NDP TIE EXTENSION TO KEY VOTE

The promise for an update on the extension by week’s end comes as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has hitched his caucus’ support for an expected vote on a key spending bill on Wednesday contingent on a commitment to extend the program.

“There needs to be an extension of CERB. It’s not acceptable for millions of Canadians to not know what’s going to happen. And we want to find a way forward, and we’re having negotiations about the fact that the government needs to release a plan on how they’re going to help Canadians in this in this crisis when there’s no jobs to return to,” Singh said during a Monday press conference on Parliament Hill.

Without the NDP support for the upcoming vote on the supplementary estimates—funding to tie overall regular federal departments until the fall and to beef up COVID-19 aid spending, totaling approximately $87 billion—the Liberals would have to rely on the Conservatives or Bloc Quebecois to vote onside or risk the chance of losing a confidence vote given their minority standing.

Any votes that have to do with money, such as the federal budget or the estimates, are traditionally considered confidence votes. In any parliament, a government lives so long as it maintains the confidence of the House of Commons. This confidence is demonstrated each time a key vote passes.

“The Liberal government has to give a plan that lets these families know that they’re not going to be left high and dry, that is that is crucial,” Singh said, though he also noted that he is not trying to bring down the government and force an election in the middle of a pandemic and is hopeful that the ongoing backroom negotiations will result in an agreement he could support.

From Rideau Cottage, Trudeau also provided an update on the emergency loan program available to businesses, and on the status of the promised program to address the food surplus farmers are experiencing due to the pandemic.

CEBA ELIGIBILITY EXPANDED

The Canada Emergency Business Account, or CEBA, was first announced in March and opened up for applications in April, as a way for businesses to access government-guaranteed loans to cover the costs of keeping their enterprise afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.

Trudeau announced on Monday that the eligibility has been expanded to include more companies, with the updated application process set to open on Friday. 

Specifically, now small businesses with payrolls between $20,000 and $1.5 million, sole proprietors receiving business income directly, and family-owned corporations that pay through dividends will be eligible. Initially, CEBA was open to businesses that had payrolls between $50,000 and $1 million.

“Our government is providing support to small businesses, so that they can keep their doors open, keep their employees on the job, and be better positioned once the economy begins to recover. We want businesses to know that we are there for them and that we are listening to their concerns,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau in a statement.

“Based on the feedback we have received on the CEBA, we are pleased to make adjustments to the program and expand it so that it can help more small businesses.” 

The program offers $40,000 government-guaranteed loans, interest-free for the first year. If the company can repay the balance of the loan by the end of 2022, up to $10,000 will be forgiven.

Projected as a $25-billion program, not-for-profit organizations are also able to apply through their banks, to help cover their operating costs during a period when their revenues have been “temporarily reduced” due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said on Monday that so far, approximately 670,000 businesses have applied for these loans, which amounts to more than $26 billion in credit being made available.

FOOD SURPLUS PROGRAM OPENS

Trudeau announced on Monday that the applications for the surplus food program are now open.

First promised in May, the $50-million program will see the government buy large quantities of surplus products and redistribute them to areas where food insecurity is an issue, to avoid throwing out food and to allow the producers to still be compensated.

Fishers or farmers who can’t sell their harvest can apply and the federal government will send the surplus to northern communities or food banks. 

“No one could have predicted that this spring would turn out the way it did. Certainly for farmers, who keep our grocery stores stocked and our families fed, it’s been an unexpectedly challenging few months,” Trudeau said. “Farmers will have people to buy their goods, and food will get to the plates of families who wouldn’t have enough otherwise.”

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Australia closes state border for first time in 100 years to halt coronavirus

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By Colin Packham and Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The border between Australia’s two most populous states will close from Tuesday for an indefinite period, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said on Monday, following an outbreak of the coronavirus in his state.

The decision marks the first time the border with neighbouring New South Wales has been shut in 100 years – officials last blocked movement between the two states in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, has surged in recent days, prompting authorities to enforce strict social-distancing orders in 30 suburbs and put nine public housing towers into complete lockdown.

The state reported 127 new COVID-19 infections overnight, its biggest one-day spike since the pandemic began. It also reported one death, the first nationally in more than two weeks, taking the country’s total tally to 105.

“It is the smart call, the right call at this time, given the significant challenges we face in containing this virus,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne as he announced the border closure.

The closure will, however, likely be a blow to Australia’s economic recovery as it heads into its first recession in nearly three decades.

Andrews said the decision to close the border, effective from 11.59 p.m. local time on Tuesday, was made jointly with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Victoria’s only other internal border, with South Australia state, is already closed.

Australia has fared better than many countries in the coronavirus pandemic, with just short of 8,500 cases so far, but the Melbourne outbreak has raised alarm bells. The country has reported an average of 109 cases daily over the past week, compared with an average of just 9 cases daily over the first week of June.

(Reporting by Colin Packham and Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)

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Canada weeks away from first glimpse at true rate of COVID-19 infections – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The national immunity task force has started testing thousands of blood samples for COVID-19 antibodies and should be able to produce a more detailed picture of how many Canadians have been infected with the novel coronavirus within a couple of weeks.

It will be much longer, however, before we know more about what kind of protection against future infection having the antibodies provides, said Dr. Timothy Evans, executive director of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

Plus, said Evans, most of the people whose blood is being tested will not be informed of the results because of how the blood is being collected for testing.

“There won’t be an opportunity for individuals to find out their status,” said Evans, who is also director of the McGill School of Population and Global Health.

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified in January, while many others were sick but couldn’t get tested because provinces were limiting who could access the procedure until just a few weeks ago.

Evans also said a significant number of people get the infection and show no symptoms and will have no clue they were ever sick. Evans said immunity testing in other countries has suggested the actual infection rate is 10 to 20 times more than the number of confirmed cases.

There are multiple prongs to the task force’s plan to figure out the true infection rate here, starting with running antibody tests on 40,000 samples collected from people who donated blood to Canadian Blood Services and Hema Quebec since May. Evans said about 1,600 of those samples are being run through the test kits every day now, and analyses are already under way on the results.

“Hopefully within the next two weeks we will have an initial first number,” he said.

The first results will reveal how many samples showed antibodies, but include no specifics like whether they are male or female or where they live.

“By the end of the month of July, we expect to have a more broken down picture of what we call the seroprevalence, the presence of antibodies in the blood, that will look at it by age group and geographic location,” Evans said.

Evans said Canadian Blood Services can’t trace back the samples to the actual patients who gave them, so positive antibody tests will not be reported back for anyone who donated blood outside of Quebec. He said Hema Quebec said it might be possible to identify the patients but hasn’t yet decided if it will do so.

Another testing program is now beginning on 25,000 blood samples taken from pregnant women, using blood routinely drawn during the first trimester to screen for sexually transmitted infections and check for immunity to other illnesses like rubella. COVID-19 antibody testing will be added to that list for all pregnant women in Canada, going back all the way to December. The women will be informed if they test positive for COVID-19 antibodies, said Evans.

Evans said there are also about 30,000 blood samples held in provincial labs that are being tested for antibodies.

He said together these projects can provide a piecemeal picture of the infection rate across the country, though it won’t be a truly representative sample until a national household survey can be run. That isn’t going to happen until the portable antibody tests become reliable, but a plan is being developed with Statistics Canada so it’s ready when the tests are.

“We’d love to have a test that didn’t require a formal blood draw, but rather a pin prick but we’re not quite there yet,” he said. “There’s some things on the horizon. We’re trying to get those validated quickly but we still haven’t got what I would call a good portable test that could be used in the home.”

The tests the task force is using now require only a small amount of blood — less than 1/20th of a teaspoon, generally — but it is still more than what comes from a finger prick.

Evans said understanding how many people got infected can help drive policy decisions about where to vaccinate first, the impact specific public health measures might have had in some settings like long-term care centres, hospitals and schools, or communities that have been hit particularly hard.

The task force also has a two-year mandate to try to look at what kind of protection someone has from having antibodies, as well as how long the levels of antibodies last in a person’s blood. Evans said those studies are just getting underway and will take time, including looking to see whether people who have the antibodies get infected during a second or third wave of the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2020.

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Oil prices mixed as coronavirus spike casts shadow over U.S. demand

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By Florence Tan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices offered up a mixed market snapshot on Monday, with Brent crude edging higher, supported by tighter supplies, while U.S. benchmark WTI futures dropped on concern that a spike in coronavirus cases could curb oil demand in the United States.

Brent crude <LCOc1> rose 11 cents, or 0.3%, to $42.91 a barrel by 0109 GMT after a 4.3% gain last week, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude <CLc1> was at $40.35, down 30 cents, or 0.7%, from its previous settlement on Thursday. U.S. markets were closed on Friday to mark July 4 holiday celebrations.

Amid rising numbers of coronavirus cases in 39 U.S. states, a Reuters tally showed that in the first four days of July alone, 15 states reported record increases in new COVID-19 infections with parties over the holiday weekend possibly leading to another spike. [nL1N2EC043]

“Rising case numbers in some U.S. states are still looming over energy demand prospects,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

Still, some in the market remain focused on tightening supplies as production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) fell to its lowest in decades with Russian output dropped to near targeted cuts. [nL8N2E731A][nR4N2DN04W]

OPEC and allies including Russia, collectively known as OPEC+, have pledged to slash production by a record 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for a third month in July. After July, the cuts are due to taper to 7.7 million bpd until December.

U.S. production, the world’s largest, is also falling. The number of operating U.S. oil and natural gas rigs fell to an all-time low for a ninth week, although the reductions have slowed as higher oil prices prompt some producers to start drilling again. [nFWN2E90KT]

(Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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