Alberta’s credit rating was downgraded Tuesday, hours after the province released a multibillion-dollar economic recovery plan in an attempt to climb out of the economic wreckage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a collapse in world oil prices.
Fitch Ratings downgraded Alberta to a double-A-minus from double-A, citing higher provincial borrowing during the pandemic-driven economic crisis and a debt burden relative to GDP that is “incompatible” with a double-A rating.
The New York-based agency also pointed to the lack of details from the government about the extent of damage to Alberta’s bottom line, and the fact the province has no planned path toward economic recovery.
Tuesday’s downgrade is the third for Alberta since December, when Moody’s Investors Service changed the province’s rating to Aa2 from Aa1, citing continued weakness in the provincial economy and its reliance on non-renewable resources. In March, DBRS Morningstar downgraded Alberta to double-A (low) from double-A.
Fitch also downgraded Canada’s credit rating last week to double-A-plus from triple-A. The agency said that move did not impact Alberta’s rating, but acknowledged factors affecting Canada’s credit quality – including a significant increase in expected federal government debt – may also affect the credit quality of individual provinces.
Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a statement Tuesday his government “remains committed to the responsible management” of provincial finances, and will release an economic and fiscal update in August.
He said the province’s stimulus plan, unveiled Monday, will put Alberta on a path to “sustainable and expedited” economic recovery.
Fitch said while it considered that plan in its rating, the package came with no details about how the strategy would affect revenues, expenditures and debt. As well, it said, “additional policy responses will be necessary as the province navigates the recession.”
Franco Terrazzano, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the downgrade sends a clear signal that the United Conservative government needs to “reprioritize its debt and spending problem.”
“Albertans are already losing billions of dollars through interest payments each year, and credit downgrades can increase the interest charges that Albertans need to fork over when politicians borrow, so it’s very important for the government to get a handle on its finances now before the situation gets any worse,” he told The Globe and Mail.
He said he’s also worried about how Albertans will foot the bill for an economic recovery strategy that includes “soaring infrastructure spending and corporate welfare spending that will only increase the debt.”
Much like Alberta’s other recent credit downgrades, Fitch pointed to the province’s continued reliance on volatile natural resource revenues as cause for concern. The agency also worried that fiscal risks won’t be sufficiently addressed by policy actions before 2025.
Fitch said the provincial government’s goal to balance spending will be “challenging” given high service demands and the depth of the current downturn.
The province’s debt sustainability was lowered to a single-A from double-A, citing increased borrowing after the deep oil-linked recession in 2015 and 2016. Fitch forecasts provincial debt will increase to $133-billion by the 2025 financial year owing to an expected deficit in 2021, the $1.5-billion equity contribution to fund construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and continued annual deficits.
In a silver lining, Fitch expects Alberta’s economy to grow, beginning in 2022, after an uptick in non-renewable resource revenues.
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Russia may start Phase III trial of COVID-19 vaccine in mid-August: RIA – The Jakarta Post – Jakarta Post
A Russian institute developing one of the country’s potential coronavirus vaccines hopes to start its final stage testing in a small section of the general public in mid-August, the RIA news agency cited the institute’s director as saying on Monday.
Globally, of 19 experimental COVID-19 vaccines in human trials, only two are in final Phase III trials – one by China’s Sinopharm and another by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. China’s Sinovac Biotech is set to become the third later this month.
Early results from the first small-scale human trial of the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow has shown it to be safe for use, according to a separate RIA report on Sunday.
“Around 14-15 August, I hope, the small amount of vaccine that we should be able to produce will enter public circulation,” Alexander Ginsburg, the institute’s director, was quoted as saying.
This will be equivalent to a Phase III trial, since people getting the vaccine will remain under supervision, RIA reported, citing Ginsburg.
Phase I and Phase II trials typically test the safety of a drug before it enters Phase III trials that test its efficacy on a bigger group of volunteers.
Human trials of the Gamaleya Institute’s vaccine began on June 18, with nine volunteers receiving one dose, and another nine testing the prospective booster dose.
The group did not experience any significant side effects and is due to be released from hospital on Wednesday, RIA reported on Sunday, citing a director at the Sechenov University in Moscow where the trial took place.
“Data currently available… shows the volunteers to have developed an immune response to the coronavirus vaccine,” the defense ministry, involved in the trials, was cited by RIA as saying on Monday. Another 20 volunteers were administered the vaccine at a military hospital on June 23.
St. Catharines adopts mandatory mask bylaw for COVID-19 – StCatharinesStandard.ca
St. Catharines has become the first Niagara municipality to enact a mandatory mask bylaw for indoor public spaces from elevators to bingo halls in an effort to curb COVID-19.
Councillors questioned Niagara’s acting medical officer of health Mustafa Hirji at length about the effectiveness of masks before voting unanimously Monday night to adopt a draft bylaw that affects most people over the age of 10.
Mayor Walter Sendzik said the city doesn’t want to be a community that has to go backwards into lockdown because COVID-19 complacency set in.
“If this keeps us moving forward and not having to step back into Stage 2 or 1 when we get out of Stage 2, I think that will be for the benefit of everybody,” said Sendzik, adding he understands the frustrations of those opposed to the bylaw.
“These are difficult decisions. We’ve all got the influx of emails and text messages and phone calls and everything else associated with it, but at the end of the day we all want to do what’s best for our community long term.”
The start date of the bylaw will be determined by the city’s CAO and mayor in consultation with the acting medical officer of health.
CAO Shelley Chemnitz said she’ll be meeting with Hirji to determine what the metrics will be to choose a date. The city’s communications staff and senior staff will work on a public education campaign and signage to support businesses and operators.
“It’s not that we have to come down hard on people for not doing things, but rather that we’re working together with them to all be successful,” she said.
Sendzik said realistically, the bylaw could be put into effect Tuesday if they want, but the education piece might take two or three weeks to fully implement in the community.
The bylaw adopted isn’t relying on mask police.
City solicitor Heather Salter said the enforcement is effectively through education and voluntary compliance. Business operators are required to have a policy in place but they are not required to enforce the policy or to prohibit entry. They are empowered by the bylaw to do so.
“This is the least restrictive type of bylaw. It doesn’t require the business operator to have somebody at the door who’s going to challenge people coming in without a mask,” she said.
“It really is a voluntary compliance situation with respect to the individuals.”
Other areas that have the same type of bylaw or rules directed at operators include Toronto, York, Ottawa and Simcoe-Muskoka.
Places like Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington have a similar rule but require operators to prohibit people from entering without masks.
The St. Catharines bylaw exempts people with medical conditions that inhibit their ability to wear a mask, people unable to apply or remove a mask without assistance, people who have protections under the human rights code that would prevent them from wearing a mask and people accommodating someone with a hearing disability.
Children 10 and under will be exempt, after a request by Merritton Coun. Lori Littleton that the age be raised from the draft bylaw’s age of two.
Individuals who claim an exemption are not required to provide proof of the exemption to protect their privacy.
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The rules affect any indoor place where the public gathers, including grocery stores, shopping malls, places of worship, libraries, bingo halls, hotel common areas and city-owned facilities, among others.
It does not include day cares, schools, public transportation, hospitals and health facilities and provincial and federal government buildings.
The bylaw states that anyone who contravenes any provision of the bylaw is guilty of an offence and upon conviction is libel to a fine, and other penalties in the provincial offences act.
St. Catharines held a special meeting of council on July 6 and directed staff to draft the temporary bylaw and request that Hirji attend Monday’s meeting.
Hirji has not issued a region-wide order to wear masks like some other Ontario public health heads have done, instead saying it is up to the politicians to make those type of rules.
He told councillors Monday that the research up until March said masks didn’t work, but that was based on influenza-like illnesses, not on COVID-19. Over the last three months or so, he said there has been research saying that unlike other respiratory viruses, face coverings may have an impact with COVID-19.
Hirji said most public health expert bodies are now recommending people wear face coverings when physical distancing is not possible.
When asked why council should introduce a bylaw now — Niagara is only seeing about two new cases of COVID-19 a day — Hirji said the province is starting to lift the restrictions in society that forced people to have distance from each other.
“The impetus for keeping ourselves safe from COVID-19 is more and more falling in our own personal responsibility,” he said, adding people need to be more vigilant than ever about keeping physical distance, washing hands, wearing face coverings when distance can’t be kept and getting tested if they have symptoms.
How long St. Catharines will keep a mask bylaw in place isn’t known.
Hirji said the only logical time to back off wearing face coverings is if there’s new research showing it’s not as effective as previously thought or there comes a point where there’s an effective vaccine.
“What we’re really trying to do is set a new social norm here that we’re going to live with for a year or two years, perhaps longer, hopefully not.”
St. Catharines Council passes mandatory mask bylaw for enclosed public spaces – Newstalk 610 CKTB (iHeartRadio)
St. Catharines council has passed a bylaw making it mandatory to wear a mask in enclosed spaces where physical distancing is not possible.
The bylaw passed unanimously after a lengthy discussion with Niagara Region’s Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji, where Hirji explained the science behind how masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when physical distancing is impossible.
When asked how the bylaw will be enforced, the city says it is up to individual businesses to enforce the policy, or choose not to.
From the bylaw:
These measures are directed at the
operators of enclosed public spaces who are required to adopt a policy that prohibits
persons to enter or otherwise remain in the enclosed public space unless that person is
wearing a mask, subject to exemptions for specific individuals.
The operator is not required to enforce the policy or to refuse entry to anyone without a
mask; however, they are empowered by the bylaw to do so. Without a bylaw in place
some private businesses have already implemented some form of mask policy for their
Businesses will also be required to provide hand sanitizer to customers upon entry.
Children under 10 will not be required to wear a mask.
You can read the bylaw on the city’s website, or by clicking here.
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