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Feds to unveil CERB transition plan Thursday as benefit winds down

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OTTAWA – The federal Liberals are rolling out a $37-billion income-support plan for workers whose earnings have crashed during the pandemic, providing a hint of future changes to the social safety net – and igniting a debate about what should stay.

The details released Thursday outline what the Liberals intend for some four million workers receiving the $500-a-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which is set to wind down starting next month.

The CERB will be extended another four weeks, and a new benefit that pays $400 a week for up to 26 weeks will replace it for those ineligible for employment insurance, such as contract, self-employed and “gig” economy workers.

Anyone eligible for EI will get the same minimum for at least 26 weeks and will need to have worked 120 hours to qualify, well below current EI requirements, since many Canadians have been unable to work to the pandemic.

There will also be $500-a-week sickness benefit and caregiving benefit for anyone who has to stay home because they’re ill, or because school or daycare is closed.

Changes are also coming to people to keep more of their benefits even while they’re working, eliminating the earnings cliff created under CERB that acted as a disincentive to work.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the changes were designed to give Canadians a longer-term view of the support they could receive, while also acknowledging the outlook beyond 2021 is uncertain.

She said the government’s upcoming throne speech will outline plans to close the gaps in the decades-old EI system, and redesign it to reflect how Canadians work now and into the future.

“If there’s anything this pandemic has shown us, it is that our EI system hasn’t kept up with the way work has evolved and we now have a chance to fix that for the better,” Qualtrough said.

The three new benefits are expected to cost $22 billion and will be brought in through legislation once the House of Commons returns after being prorogued this week.

The extension to the $80-billion CERB is expected to cost a further $8 billion, and $7 billion more to the EI system, and can be done through powers that Qualtrough already has to create temporary EI measures.

The costs are for one year, but are dependent on the course of the pandemic and how the labour market rebounds from historic job losses.

“It is all about keeping things smooth,” TD senior economist Brian DePratto wrote in a note. “The last thing the Canadian economy needs right now is for a large group of people to experience a sudden drop in incomes (and by extension, spending) that could disrupt the recovery process.”

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, and Unifor national president Jerry Dias, said this will provide relief to worried workers, but emphasized the need for more permanent changes.

Ricardo Tranjan, a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the changes address problems identified in the safety net: “There’s actually no good reason for not making them permanent right now,” he said in an interview.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business voiced concerns about how any permanent changes could increase costs for small businesses in the long run, which could also slow an economic recovery.

“EI changes that may make sense during a worldwide pandemic may have massive unintended consequences in ordinary times,” CFIB president Dan Kelly said in a statement.

EI premiums for employers and workers will be frozen for the next two years, which newly minted Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said is intended to ease costs on employers to prod them to rehire workers.

Parliament is to resume Sept. 23 with a speech from the throne, leaving only a few days for legislative debate before the CERB expires. NDP employment critic Daniel Blaikie said that means the people who need these benefits won’t know for weeks if these changes will pass.

“If job No. 1 was to give Canadians some meaningful certainty about their financial future, I’m not sure they achieved that,” he said in an interview.

Conservative employment critic Dan Albas said shuffling Canadians between programs wasn’t a viable plan, and criticized the Liberals for being too slow to act.

“This includes the Liberals’ refusal to fix the EI system for new and expecting parents, which they could have made months ago,” Albas said in a statement. “Canadians are rightly concerned about falling through the cracks during this transition.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said in a statement the proposed changes seem to meet his party’s demands, but they should have been passed before Parliament was prorogued. He warned Trudeau against “holding workers and businesses hostage” to the throne speech being adopted.

The government estimates about one million people will need the new workers’ benefit that replaces the CERB. A further three million will go on the simplified EI program, which one federal official said is a number more typical to what would be seen over one year or two.

Officials spoke at a media briefing Thursday provided on the condition they not be identified. They also noted that 400,000 people will receive benefits who otherwise wouldn’t have qualified for EI.

Since mid-March, the CERB has paid almost $69.4 billion in benefits to 8.61 million people, of which 4.1 million have since returned to the labour market.

– with files from Mia Rabson

Source: – BNN

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Breathing easy: COVID-19 fails to smother Sault's credit rating – SooToday

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Coronavirus has so far not choked the Sault’s credit rating, city councillors will learn Monday night.

Shelley Schell, the city’s chief financial officer and treasurer, will report that S&P Global Ratings is maintaining the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s credit score at AA (stable).

“Operating performance is largely unscathed by the pandemic, in part due to management action,” S&P states in its latest update.

“To mitigate the revenue impact of COVID-19, which we expect will be temporary and largely related to rate- and fee-based revenues, management has implemented cost-cutting measures,” the credit analyst says.

“This, coupled with provincial relief funding, will likely be sufficient to cover the year-end shortfall, allowing for more room to proceed with planned initiatives and reduce future budget pressures. On average, we expect operating balances will remain strong at almost 13 per cent of operating revenues.”

“We expect the impact of the pandemic on Sault Ste. Marie will be short-lived, as the city’s exposure to the coronavirus has been limited. Although activity is rebounding, we expect pre-pandemic economic pressures will remain. In particular, Sault Ste. Marie’s challenging demographic profile limits the city’s growth prospects and might affect its revenue-generating capability, in our view.”

“We continue to monitor the success of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program, a federal government project to help smaller rural and northern communities attract and retain foreign skilled workers to meet their economic development and labour market needs that kicked off late last year,” the S&P report says.

“Sault Ste. Marie is the third-largest city in Northern Ontario, relying mainly on steel manufacturing and forestry. Although the city continues to gradually diversify away from its traditional resource-based economy, we believe that medium-term economic and related GDP [gross domestic product] growth will remain muted relative to that of Canada. While GDP per capita is not available, we estimate it to be somewhat below the national level of about US$42,000 based on the city’s income levels.”

Monday night’s City Council meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m.

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China pushes emergency use of COVID vaccine despite concerns – CTV News

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BEIJING —
After the first shot, he had no reaction. But Kan Chai felt woozy following the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use in China.

“When I was driving on the road, I suddenly felt a bit dizzy, as if I was driving drunk,” the popular writer and columnist recounted in a webinar earlier this month. “So I specially found a place to stop the car, rest a bit and then I felt better.”

His is a rare account from the hundreds of thousands of people who have been given Chinese vaccines, before final regulatory approval for general use. It’s an unusual move that raises ethical and safety questions, as companies and governments worldwide race to develop a vaccine that will stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Chinese companies earlier drew attention for giving the vaccine to their top executives and leading researchers before human trials to test their safety and efficacy had even begun. In recent months, they have injected a far larger number under an emergency use designation approved in June, and that number appears poised to rise.

A Chinese health official said Friday that China, which has largely eradicated the disease, needs to take steps to prevent it from coming back. But one outside expert questioned the need for emergency use when the virus is no longer spreading in the country where it was first detected.

It’s unclear exactly who and how many people have been injected so far, but Chinese vaccine makers have offered some clues. State-owned Sinopharm subsidiary CNBG has given the vaccine to 350,000 people outside its clinical trials, which have about 40,000 people enrolled, a top CNBG executive said recently.

Another company, Sinovac Biotech Ltd., has injected 90% of its employees and family members, or about 3,000 people, most under the emergency-use provision, CEO Yin Weidong said. It has also provided tens of thousands of rounds of its CoronaVac to the Beijing city government.

Separately, the Chinese military has approved the use of a vaccine it developed with CanSino Biologics Inc., a biopharmaceutical company, in military personnel.

“The first people to have priority in emergency use are the vaccine researchers and the vaccine manufacturers because when the pandemic comes, if these people are infected then there’s no way to produce the vaccine,” Yin said.

Now, large Chinese firms including telecom giant Huawei and broadcaster Phoenix TV have announced they’re working with Sinopharm to get the vaccine for their employees.

Several people who say they work in “front-line” organizations have said on social media that their workplaces have offered vaccinations for about 1,000 yuan ($150). They declined to comment, saying they would need permission from their organizations.

In an established but limited practice, experimental medications have been approved historically for use when they are still in the third and last phase of human trials. Chinese companies have four vaccines in phase 3 — two from Sinopharm, and one each from Sinovac and CanSino.

The Chinese government referenced the World Health Organization’s emergency-use principles to create its own through a strict process, National Health Commission official Zheng Zhongwei said at a news conference Friday.

He said there have been no serious side effects in the clinical trials.

“We’ve made it very clear that the COVID-19 vaccine we put into emergency use are safe,” Zheng said. “Their safety can be ensured but their efficacy is yet to be determined.”

Under the emergency rule, high-risk personnel such as medical and customs workers and those who have to work overseas are given priority access, he said. He declined to provide exact numbers.

“In China’s case, the pressure in preventing imported infections and domestic resurgence is still huge,” Zheng said.

But Diego Silva, a lecturer in bioethics at the University of Sydney, said that giving vaccines to hundreds of thousands outside of clinical trials doesn’t have “scientific merit” in China, where there are currently very few locally transmitted cases, and incoming arrivals are quarantined centrally.

“If it’s in the U.S. where the virus is still raging that’s a bit different, but in a country like China it doesn’t seem to make sense to me,” he said. “Because there’s not enough of the virus in China locally to deduce anything, you’re introducing a whole host of others factors” by injecting people outside of trials.

Zheng said that all those injected under emergency use are being closely tracked for any adverse health effects.

Kan Chai, the columnist, wrote in an article posted online in September that despite initial hesitation, he decided to sign up after he heard a state-owned company was looking for volunteers.

He didn’t say whether his was an emergency-use case, but the timing of his vaccination suggests it was. He took the first dose in late July, when the emergency inoculations were getting started and the trials were all but over.

“I’m willing to be a little white mouse, and the biggest reason is because I have trust in our country’s vaccination technology,” he said.

His real name is Li Yong, but his 1.65 million followers on the Twitter-like social platform Weibo know him better by his pen name, which means “10 years of chopping wood.” He declined an interview request.

He described taking the vaccine in a public webinar hosted by 8am HealthInsight, a popular health media outlet. It’s unclear why he qualified to receive it.

Scant information is publicly available about the program’s scope, size, and scientific merit. CNBG and parent Sinopharm declined to comment. Zheng, the National Health Commission official, did not know about the Kan Chai case.

While emergency use may be the right path, Chinese companies are not being transparent about issues such as informed consent, said Joy Zhang, a professor who researches the ethical governance of emerging science at University of Kent in Britain.

Zhang said that she could not find any relevant information on the Sinopharm website, and aside from reports published in international medical journals, there is little else made public.

She said relatively more information is publicly available about other trials such as one run by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. The trial was halted after a participant developed severe neurological side effects, and only resumed after clinical data was submitted to an independent review board.

China has a troubled past with vaccines, with various scandals over the past two decades.

The most recent case was in 2018, when Changsheng Biotechnology Co. came under investigation for falsifying records and making ineffective rabies vaccines for children.

In 2017, Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Co., a CNBG subsidiary behind one of the vaccines in phase 3 trials, was found to have made defective diphtheria vaccines that were ineffective.

Public anger over the case prompted an overhaul of a vaccine punishment law in 2019. The country tightened supervision over the vaccine development and distribution process, and increased penalties for fabricating data.

Those concerns seem to be of the past. Guizhen Wu, the chief biosafety expert for China’s Center for Disease Control, said a vaccine could be ready for the general public in China as early as November. She said she took an experimental vaccine back in April.

An overseas employee at a Chinese state-owned company, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn’t authorized to speak with the media, said she decided to sign up last week.

She said she isn’t worried because a vaccine is a government priority, so authorities will keep a close watch on the process.

——

Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan. Associated Press producer Olivia Zhang and videojournalist Dake Kang contributed to this report.

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Alberta reports 153 new COVID-19 cases, no additional deaths – Edmonton Journal

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Edmonton Public Schools reported another student at Vimy Ridge Academy tested positive, bringing the total to seven. About seven other students and two staff members have to self-isolate.

Vimy, along with Centre High, Highlands School and Austin O’Brien remain on the province’s watch list for having more than five cases. The province is also watching 10 other schools that have reported from two to four cases.

These include Ross Sheppard High School, Holy Trinity, Parkview, McNally, Ecole Pere-Lacombe, Waverly, Riverbend, Harry Ainlay, Bishop Savaryn and Louis St. Laurent.

Alberta Health Services considers a school to have an outbreak when there are two or more cases at one site within 14 days.

Meanwhile, Loblaws reported two staff members testing positive at Shoppers Drug Mart stores at Woodview Drive and Falsbridge Drive. The company said the employee at the Woodview location last worked on Sept. 23 while the Falsbridge location employee last worked on Sept. 19.

A total of 105,358 cases of COVID-19 and 9,254 fatalities have been reported across the country, according to the Canadian Press. More than 6.9 million tests have been run.

Globally, there are more than 31 million cases and more than 973,600 deaths from COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday a second wave of COVID-19 has not hit Alberta despite the prime minister’s declaration on Wednesday of its arrival in the country’s four biggest provinces.

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