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Feds urge caution in re-opening economy in Canada – National Observer

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Canadian officials acknowledged some regions of the country could be closer to re-opening parts of the economy than others, but continued to stress a careful approach as the border closure with the hard-hit United States was extended for another 30 days during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Let us be very clear, while we want to be optimistic, we need to be absolutely cautious,” Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said Saturday.

Sobering reminders of the need for patience were heard throughout the day as case numbers continued to climb in Canadian nursing homes and prisons.

At Residence Herron, the suburban Montreal long-term care home where 31 people died from COVID-19 in less than one month, 61 of 99 residents have now tested positive for the virus, according to a regional health authority spokesman.

Canadian Armed Forces members with medical expertise headed to long-term care homes in Quebec after Premier Francois Legault asked the federal government for assistance.

Meanwhile, alarms were raised about an outbreak at a federal women’s prison northeast of the Montreal where 60 per cent of inmates have been infected, according to the Elizabeth Fry Society. The organization reported 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Joliette Institution, up from 10 on April 7, and other women’s institutions in Ontario and British Columbia also reported cases.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the extension for the closure restricting non-essential travel across the border, which began on March 21 and was set to expire on Tuesday.

“This is an important decision and one that will keep people on both sides of the border safe,” Trudeau said.

U.S. president Donald Trump said earlier this week that the border could open soon, but Trudeau and other Canadian political leaders did not strike the same tone in comments.

The U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, with more than 700,000 positive tests. Canada has more than 33,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and is closing in on 1,500 deaths.

Despite continuing grim news, glimmers of hope emerged this week as provinces and cities reported slower growth of the virus, and officials began discussing moves towards a “new normal.”

In B.C., officials suggested some restrictions could be eased in the coming weeks in light of numbers showing a flattening of the coronavirus curve.

Prince Edward Island, where 23 of the province’s 26 confirmed COVID-19 cases are recovered, is also looking at easing restrictions on activities while maintaining self-isolation rules for those entering the province.

Toronto Mayor John Tory met with city officials Saturday to discuss when regular life can restart in the country’s biggest city, though he warned that the time has not come yet.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province’s approach will be based on health advice and will only move forward with re-opening with medical officials’ green light. He added that there are various scenarios playing out across the province.

“What’s happening in a big urban centre like Toronto may not be happening in rural areas,” Ford said.

He said that loosening restrictions over time will have to be done in a careful and methodical way, and said it would be “twice as hard” as the current lockdown.

On Saturday, Trudeau repeated the need for caution and reminded Canadians to continue with physical distancing measures.

“If we open too quickly, too soon or in the wrong way, we could find ourselves back in this situation a couple of months from now and everything we will have sacrificed during these months will have been for naught,” Trudeau said.

He said discussions with the premiers have found consensus on the need to co-ordinate how the country moves forward, but acknowledged that different provinces and municipalities are at different stages of the pandemic battle and may be able to relax measures sooner.

“The situation is very different right across the country from one region to the next and the measures that they will be able to move forward with at various moments will vary as well,” Trudeau said. “That’s going to be an important part of the recovery here.”

Trudeau’s messages of collaboration among provinces contrasted with the situation in the U.S. As protests formed against mandatory closures this week, Trump, on Twitter, urged supporters to “liberate” three states led by Democratic governors.

Trudeau’s government has so far held off on defining guidelines for provinces looking to lift restrictions, as Trump did for U.S. governors earlier this week.

At a Saturday news conference with cabinet ministers, Duclos said easing of measures will depend on factors like where the disease curve is heading, the number of deaths, equipment supply and space in intensive care units.

Meanwhile, Trudeau continued to stress he does not think it is a good idea for the House of Commons to resume business as usual Monday — with all 338 MPs, along with their staff, clerks, interpreters, security and cleaners.

An agreement needs to be reached before then on scaled-back sittings if the plan is to change. Federal political parties were continuing negotiations Saturday about when and how Parliament should reconvene in the middle of the pandemic.

Certain regions eye re-opening of economy as cautious approach urged

Trudeau’s Liberals are proposing one in-person sitting each week, with a small number of MPs and extended time for longer questions and more thorough answers than would normally be allowed during the daily question period. More sittings would be added as soon as the technical and logistical requirements for virtual meetings can be worked out.

All opposition parties appear satisfied with that proposal, except for the Conservatives.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is demanding up to four in-person sittings each week, with fewer than 50 MPs in the chamber, to hold the government to account for its response to the health crisis and the resulting economic disaster.

Trudeau also announced Saturday the government is providing $306 million to help Indigenous companies.

Later Saturday, the federal government was set to deploy celebrities in new ads meant to amplify the plea of public health experts for Canadians to stay home.

The ads, one in French, one in English, were to begin broadcasting nationally during the “One World: Together at Home” concert.

The English advertisement features astronaut Chris Hadfield and hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser, alongside Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2020.

– With files from the Associated Press

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Calm before the storm for Japan suicides as coronavirus ravages economy – National Post

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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.

JOBLESS LINK

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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Nova Scotia's stimulus plan a good start in rebuilding devastated economy, economist says – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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HALIFAX, N.S. —

A $230-million stimulus program expected to employ 2,000 Nova Scotians and rebuild important infrastructure assets is a needed emergency measure to rebuild an economy devastated by the COVID-19 crisis, but there’s plenty of pain still to come, warns a Halifax economist.

“For a province like Nova Scotia, $230 million of debt is significant but on the other hand we’re still focused on containing the economic pain that’s been caused by COVID-19 and I think that’s the first matter of focus,” said Melvin Cross, a Dalhousie University economics professor. “If you have 2,000 people otherwise unemployed and have them doing something that will add to the assets of the province then such a program is worth considering.”

Premier Stephen Mcneil unveiled the provincially funded plan on Wednesday when he announced the province’s economy would completely reopen on June 5. The provincial monies will pay for projects across the province, such as roads, bridges, school repairs and museum, courthouse, and hospital renovations. Statistics Canada reported earlier this month that 50,000 jobs were lost in Nova Scotia in April.

The professor said the program is a reasonable first response in addressing “the economic pain we see people experiencing.”

“Will we have more discussions about the details of this program and have some dissatisfaction with it, probably. That doesn’t mean the concept is unsound.”

Cross said there’s a possibility that the Bank of Canada would pony up cash to pay a portion of the stimulus program, much better than the alternative, he added.

“It would be unwise to increase tax rates in the economy that’s already lumbered with unemployment and businesses struggling to deal with the consequences of COVID19.”

Scotiabank released a report earlier this month predicting Nova Scotia could feel less economic pain caused by COVID-19 compared to other provinces.

The report said besides Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia is the only province likely to avoid record deficits in the 2021 fiscal year. Yet it predicts Nova Scotia will have a roughly $970-million deficit.

While the government has a key role to play in assisting businesses and rebuilding the economy there’s a limited pot of money available, said the professor. He likened the province’s predicament to fighting a raging fire with only a limited water source available.

“If we drained too much water out of the lake and you have to stop, well do you have the fire controlled yet?” said Cross. “Well, you say at what point do you decide it’s not appropriate to use water to put out the fire?”

The Chronicle Herald inquired with the province about the economic consequences of the stimulus plan, including whether it’s now in a deficit and if money has to be drawn from other government departments to pay for the program, but did not get answers to those questions.

Cross said as long as there’s no effective treatment for COVID-19, the province and country can expect to feel significant economic pain.

“We might get a bit of relief this summer If COVID-19 acts the way better understood flu viruses act but the epidemiologists tell us that we must be prepared to manage a second wave of COVID.”

Patrick Sullivan, CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased with the province’s decision to reopen those businesses closed during the lockdown, including restaurants, hairdressers and gyms. A $25-million Small Business Reopening and Support Grant was also announced on Wednesday for eligible businesses, nonprofits, charities and social enterprises to open safely. That amounts to $5,000 grants to businesses to purchase public health equipment necessary to reopen their business; money that’s badly needed and appreciated, said Sullivan.

“But there’s still concern restaurants will only be reopening at 50 per cent capacity and there will likely be reduced tourism this summer. We appreciate the need to operate safely because we don’t want this to happen again. “

Because of restrictions on international travel, tourism operators in the province face a daunting summer season. He’s encouraging Nova Scotians to choose a staycation to support the sector and advocating for the government to introduce a $2,000 accommodations tax credit to incentivize people to stay home.

He said businesses are in need of plenty more support but said there are still assistance programs available to small businesses through ACOA and Community Business Development Corporation. Sullivan said the federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program, offering to cover 75 per cent of rent for small businesses, is flawed and has limited uptake largely because it’s optional for landlords. He said financial assistance should be made available to the tenant, not the landlord.

In the end, he couldn’t predict how many businesses in Halifax might be forced to close.

“I don’t know and don’t think anyone does right now I think the majority of businesses have tried to get their way through this to get a reopening day.”

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As economy falters, restaurateurs look back at oil boom that gave rise to fine dining – CBC.ca

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It was 2012 and times were good in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Oil was flowing offshore, and expensive bottles of wine were flowing in restaurants around St. John’s.

Jeremy Bonia remembers the days when a barrel of oil sold for $120, and a bottle of wine could easily fetch more.

“I mean, we were doing well,” he said with a smirk while standing in front of his restaurant, Raymonds, on Water Street in St. John’s.

The booming economy paved the way for new possibilities on the city’s food scene — high end dining for people with money to spend, and corporations looking to impress potential clients.

There was as much business being done at the dinner table as the boardroom table, and people like Bonia used the influx of riches to build their dream restaurants.

Those places are empty now, as a pandemic and plummeting oil prices have wreaked havoc on the already fragile economy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bonia and co-owner Jeremy Charles were forced this spring to lay off about 100 staff members between Raymonds and their other restaurant, The Merchant Tavern, with no idea if or when they could bring everyone back.

Everything is changing

High-end restaurants depend on tourism to make money in the summer months, and are kept afloat throughout the offseason by major industry players, like oil and gas companies.

But when it comes to the symbiotic relationship between oil and restaurants, most of the damage was done before the world knew about COVID-19.

The riches of 2012 were followed by a crash at the end of 2014. The yearly average price for a barrel of oil plummeted from $98.97 to $53.03, and the big players on the Grand Banks started slashing.

“We started to see companies scale back either office sizes, or team sizes, and expense accounts as well,” Bonia said.

“Just the amount of meetings and physical people on the ground started to scale back quite a bit.”

Without a strong economy to prop up the restaurant industry throughout the offseason, Raymonds closed its doors for the winter this year. The decision was made before COVID-19 was on anybody’s radar.

In the historic Quidi Vidi Village, chef Todd Perrin knows all about the rise and fall of oil prices at Mallard Cottage.

Oil had been the catalyst to exploring the world of fine dining with traditional cuisine — places where concoctions of wild game and locally-sourced vegetables could fetch a pretty penny.

Todd Perrin, pictured in this file photo, cuts a cooked lobster at his restaurant, Mallard Cottage, in St. John’s. (Gary Locke/CBC)

“It made it possible to operate a restaurant and be able to pay the bills,” Perrin said. “At the beginning of my career, it was a tough market. When oil really hit, and St. John’s was full of people attached to the oil industry with expense accounts, it made a big, big difference.”

By the time the expense accounts shrunk, places like Raymonds and Mallard Cottage already had reputations bolstered by profiles in publications like The New York Times to help carry them through the leaner years. 

Those international awards and glowing reviews meant tourists were flocking to get in during the summer seasons.

Now, with no tourists due to COVID-19 restrictions, Bonia said he knows they’ll have a hard time continuing the way they had for a decade.

While other restaurants are relying on locals eating out to keep them afloat, he said that’s not likely with a place like Raymonds — especially with more than 30,000 jobs lost in the province since March.

“Fine dining is a niche thing. It’s not something we expect people to come out and do once a week, once a month even,” he said. 

“Raymonds will definitely feel it more than other restaurants.”

How oil will affect the next generation of chefs

But it’s not just local restaurants that are feeling the effects of the downturn in oil.

Roger Andrews, an advanced cooking instructor at the College of the North Atlantic, said he can look at his students on the first day of class, and pick out the ones who aspire to be the next celebrity chef.

He makes it his goal to give them the advice they need to hone their skills, but to also open up their minds to more realistic pathways.

With a downturn in the economy, students can expect fewer restaurants taking people in for internships, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of options.

“Where they’re actually going to go is the big thing,” Andrews said.

“Perhaps we’re not teaching them for the restaurant setting as much as we would for the old age home.”

Roger Andrews is a chef and instructor of the advanced cooking program at College of the North Atlantic in St. John’s. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Another perk of the offshore oil boom was an uptake in the college’s marine cooking program.

People that grew tired of working in the volatile world of restaurant kitchens were returning to upgrade their education and head offshore. Oil companies handed lucrative salaries to cooks, who were ditching meagre pay onshore to head out on the rigs and supply vessels in the North Atlantic.

“They have families, want something more stable, or they go chasing money,” Andrews said. 

“You’ve got big oil offering up someone $100,000 a year — people are going to take that.”

Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore has lost at least one oil platform for up to two years, and public figures from the premier to the president of Memorial University have called on the federal government to support the industry to prevent further losses.

Andrews expects the restaurant industry will thin out, too, with the combination of pains being inflicted on the province from all sides — Muskrat Falls in the north, offshore oil in the east, and a lack of tourists entering the province from the west.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, where you have to be very unique, and interesting and different,” he said.

“I can foresee with a bit of a change in the economy, the number of those restaurants will have to drop down a little bit, unfortunately.”

Raymonds is a fine dining restaurant in downtown St. John’s. With executive chef Jeremy Charles and sommelier Jeremy Bonia at the helm, the restaurant has earned high praise on the global stage. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Jeremy Bonia hopes that won’t include Raymonds. To save his neck, he’s willing to alter the formula that made the restaurant a hit with critics around the world.

“We look forward to the day we can go back to what we were doing before,” he said.

“I’m sure we’ll open Raymonds, it just may be a different capacity, maybe as a different concept for a little bit.”

Bonia and Charles have had offers thrown at them before to leave behind their home province and start new ventures on the mainland, but they’ve resisted those — and Bonia said, they will resist more.

 “We’re not here for the weather and we’re not here for the money. We’re here because we love living here,” he said.

This coverage is part of Changing Course, a series of stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador that’s taking a closer look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting local industries and businesses, and how they’re adapting during these uncertain times to stay afloat.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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