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The week in COVID-19: B.C. economy improving, but new community cases show virus fight far from over –



British Columbia’s economy is showing glimmers of recovery, but new community cases of COVID-19 show it’s far too early to relax, said B.C.’s top doctor this week.

“We’ve seen elsewhere around the world, including the United States and other places, that things can quickly escalate once again if we let our guard down,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday.

The week saw positive cases pop up at multiple Vancouver nightclubs, a Burnaby fitness club, a McDonald’s in Surrey and a Vancouver 7-Eleven store.

On Friday, the province reported 25 new cases, the biggest one-day jump since May 8. On Thursday, an additional 20 new cases were reported. 

This week B.C.’s total COVID-19 case count also passed the 3,000 mark, reaching 3,053 cases by the end of the week.

As of Friday, there were 187 active cases in the province, with 16 people currently in hospital and five in intensive care. A total of 2,679 people who tested positive have recovered.

The province is also looking into whether nightclubs are following provincial rules after two strip clubs, No5 Orange and Brandi’s, as well as Hotel Belmont, showed positive cases, but officials were unable to contact everyone who had visited. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Because the disease is still circulating, Henry emphasized, everyone must keep up prevention measures such as physical distancing and wearing masks until a treatment or vaccine is available. 

The province is also looking into whether nightclubs are following provincial rules after two strip clubs, No5 Orange and Brandi’s, as well as Hotel Belmont, showed positive cases, but officials were unable to contact everyone who had visited the clubs.

Tracking tests

Henry also said the province is still working to identify a reliable antibody test to determine how many people have been infected and recovered without ever testing positive for COVID-19.

The tests have been problematic, she explained, with a high prevalence of both false positive and false negative results. As a result, the province is using different tests to validate any positives.

“The bottom line from what I’ve seen so far is it reflects what we have seen here in British Columbia, that very few people have become affected at a population level,” she said, promising more detailed information next week.

‘A picture of cautious optimism’

At the same time, the B.C. economy is showing gradual signs of recovery. According to new data released by Statistics Canada, the province’s unemployment rate dropped by 0.4 per cent in June after rising for three months straight.

It now sits at 13 per cent, with the number of people employed in B.C. rising by 118,000 in June, after an increase of 43,000 in May.

Speaking at a Friday morning news conference, Finance Minister Carole James said the data “paints a picture of cautious optimism, with a long road ahead.”

James said the gains bring back roughly 40 per cent of the jobs that had been lost since February. The total net job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic are approximately 235,000 in B.C.

Closed for business

Speaking of long roads ahead, a growing number of people in B.C. are heading out on vacation — but some B.C. Indigenous communities are expressing concerns over the possible arrival of COVID-19 along with summer travelers.

This week the Lower Similkameen Indian Band closed the Chopaka Bridge Beach, a private beach on reserve land that’s popular with tourists.

“This year with pandemic happening and everything that’s going on in the States, we have a lot of U.S. travelers that end up stopping at this beach,” said Chief Keith Crow on Daybreak South. “It’s time to keep our members safe.”

Chopaka Bridge Beach near Osoyoos in southern B.C. is now closed to the general public. (Submitted by Keith Crow)

Meanwhile a luxury fishing lodge on Haida Gwaii says it plans to reopen this weekend despite a state of emergency issued by the Haida Nation as a result of the pandemic.

Queen Charlotte Safaris president Paul Clough says the lodge is 45 kilometres from the nearest community and complies with all orders and guidelines issued by the province and WorkSafe BC.

However in a statement the Council of the Haida Nation said the protection of its communities is paramount.

“These are our lands and waters,” said Chief Councillor Duffy Edgars of the Old Massett Village. “We will decide when it’s time to open back up to visitors, and until that invitation is open, Haida Gwaii is closed to all non-essential travel and non-residents.”

A group of Haida matriarchs also vowed to occupy two ancient villages on Haida Gwaii in protest.

No Infections From Protests

Anti-racism protests have drawn thousands of people across B.C. but this week Henry also confirmed that the province has not seen any cases of COVID-19 that are linked to the protests, the largest of which took place June 5 and June 19.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said public health officials in other parts of North America have reported similar results.

Thousands of people have gathered for anti-racism protests in B.C. in recent weeks, but no COVID-19 cases have been linked to the marches. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

“We follow up every single case here in B.C.,” Henry said. “The short answer is no … currently we do not have any cases that have been associated with the protests that took place.”

Henry emphasized that infections were likely prevented because people were outside, and most tried to keep their distance and wore masks.

But Henry said officials in the U.S. have connected virus transmission to other large outdoor gatherings — particularly parties on the beach.

“That was surprising,” she said. “Many of us thought there would be a similar risk.”

Long-Term Improvement

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed serious flaws with B.C.’s long-term care system, says health officials, and during the Thursday briefing this week, Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said that big changes are needed.

“What this pandemic has absolutely exposed is the vulnerabilities in many of our long-term care homes,” Henry said.

Graham Drew, 96, father of Deanna Harlow and Debbie Drew tested positive for COVID-19 while at the Lynn Valley Care Centre. (Debbie Drew)

The comments come as B.C. begins opening up long-term care facilities to some non-essential visitors after months of isolation for residents, and a rising tide of complaints from families with loved ones in hard-hit care homes.

Dix said the “fundamental challenge” will be to shift priorities so extending people’s lives isn’t the sole focus.

“We have to allow people to live life. This has been the profound contradiction and it’s why restoring visits was so important,” he said.

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BLAKE DOYLE: Anticipation of economic direction –



Approaching the middle of August, Prince Edward Island’s economy is entering a stage where we can assess the seasonal cycle. We can evaluate the success of our tourism season, and the effectiveness of our reopening. Having spent 25 years as a tourism operator outside Charlottetown, the seasonal peak always occurred prior to Old Home Week when traffic starts to migrate toward the capital centre. So this is a good time to calibrate register receipts.

But reliable data is in short supply. By observation, I would concede that Island business experienced a burst of enthusiasm through each successive stage of economic reopening. The pent-up energy of buying ice cream, browsing retail, dinning out or getting a haircut was intense; but now satisfied.

As increased competition for share of wallet spreads the local purchasing power across many seasonal businesses, the influx of tourists has been appreciated, but muted, as measured in traffic flows.

The long-lasting consequences of the pandemic shutdown is an adjustment to consumerism. Shelter in place, eat at home, shop online and suspend travel. These are economy-breaking behaviours, which will take time to readjust.

Business continuity

After a false-start in March, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King recast his economic guidance taskforce in the middle of May. This is one of the most diverse and impressive group of industry leaders recently assembled, under the banner of the Business Continuity Group (BCG). There is strong thought-leadership embedded, but the group is unwieldy.

A quarter into the BCG mandate and with little communication outside a twitterbot that rebroadcast a few community tweets, the business community is ravenous for the promise offered in the group’s inception.

Reliable, decision-worthy data lags too long in a responsive environment. Even Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, is looking at non-standard, high-frequency data to make assessments — data like credit card purchases. What he has seen in the U.S. is an economic uptick in May and June where consumer spending recovered half off the March lows and employment recovered one-third of their losses. But in July, partially from viral resurgence, credit card purchases have slowed, and small business job growth is stalling.

This data is not perfect, but it is the best available. The diversity of the BCG and the breadth of industries touched can provide real-time, generalized analytics on accommodation bookings, retail sales, tourism investment, manufacturing and business purchases. This information is essential for all Island small businesses when forecasting investment, hiring or compression into the fall. We need to release this data.

Weekly updates

I would appeal to the premier to release preliminary findings, not the euphoric economic restart optimism, but practical trending data and provide this information in real-time on a weekly basis. Business needs current information on which to make informed decisions.

If elements of the economy are performing well — and some sectors absolutely are — this is great news. If sectors are suffering — and unquestionably some are — then use this data for policy directives to induce and support industry.

Our seasonal economy is within a quarter of annual suspension. The economy needs a plan for the “off season” with federal CERB and rental rebates winding down, the economic underpinnings will feel the challenges deferred from spring.

The premier has mused about encouraging Islanders to apply tourism dollars locally. Perhaps economic inducements can be offered to Islanders this fall/winter.                                                      

New initiatives

In 1891, the Merchant Bank of Prince Edward Island issued bank notes. Can the government issue a 10-per-cent Buy-P.E.I. credit for local money spent in our Island bubble? 

This encourages a local spend and multiplication benefit at a time when our domestic Island economy will be entirely self-reliant … but still competing with Amazon, Walmart and Costco.

Keep the spend-and-tax revenue local. Easy decision!

Island business should be extended provincial benefits to maintain post-seasonal employment, or even add new hires. This should be paired with the return to school plan and a goal of recovering our labour participation rate to an aspirational 75 per cent.
Our government could offer business interruption insurance, available to companies that can demonstrate a year-over-year decline of a measurable percentage, lagging by a quarter to support stabilization.

Construction carries our economy; as goes construction, so goes our economy. But population is required to continue this run. According to the province’s population projections in September 2019, our natural population rates turns negative in seven years. Now is the time to work on an Employ P.E.I. strategy to attract professionals who are eager to live in our pristine (COVID free) environment and contribute to our economy. (We see these people regularly through my recruitment firm).

More difficult, the government needs to articulate a strategy to taper investment or redirect its budget to economic stabilization. Spending cannot continue in all directions – but investing in the economy will increase revenues.

The Business Edge is always happy to dispense free advice, the value of which is equivalent to the cost. Perhaps other Islanders can contribute to this conversation on our collective economic future.

Blake Doyle is The Guardian’s small business columnist.   


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GUEST COLUMN: Diversify the economy through clean growth –



By Kieran Hanley / Special to The Telegram

As the world battles through the pandemic, its nations are deliberating on what shape global economic recovery will take. There is a growing sense that investments should meet two tests: that they contribute to economic activity and jobs right away; and that they will provide longer-term benefits for the economy, the environment, and society. In short, economic recovery and “clean growth” should go hand in hand.

This is the case in Canada. Long before the pandemic, our federal government was aggressively investing in initiatives related to climate change, sustainability and clean technology. So, it is a safe bet to assume that its approach to economic recovery will follow suit. Influential groups like the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery say that building back better means “supporting the jobs, infrastructure and growth that will keep Canada competitive in the clean economy of the 21st century.”

For its part, Newfoundland and Labrador has been hit hard by not just the pandemic, but also the collapse of oil prices. The reality is that we need to take advantage of any lifeline available to us. And so, part of our economic recovery has to be making the most of any and all federal programs — many of which will have a clean growth twist. We need to be prepared for this.

Yet the opportunity for our province extends far beyond simply being reactive.

There are also opportunities for brand new industries that can put our province at the forefront of the energy transition and diversify our economy.

The pursuit of sustainability within our offshore oil and gas industry will lead to the development and application of new low-carbon products, services and processes that will not only be demanded worldwide and across multiple oceans sectors — but will also contribute to the long-term success of this industry here at home.

The accelerated electrification of our economy will contribute to mitigating the costs of Muskrat Falls. This means increasing the number of electric cars on our roads, converting our Metrobus fleets to run on electricity and switching buildings from fossil fuel-based heating sources to electric. This also means designing a future that involves electrified ferries, seaport and airport operations and industrial processes.

These are just two areas where clean growth perfectly aligns with existing provincial priorities and will create jobs. But there are also opportunities for brand new industries that can put our province at the forefront of the energy transition and diversify our economy.

The production of hydrogen is an important example. Hydrogen is a fuel that emits zero emissions and can be produced through low or zero-emissions means. The past year has seen rapid progress for this industry, with interest intensifying during the pandemic. Several countries are forcefully pursuing its production, with Canada set to announce a national strategy in the near future. Given our existing marine infrastructure and access to enormous renewable energy resources, Newfoundland and Labrador may be in an excellent position to become a global producer of hydrogen — as we are of oil today.

But to make the most of any of these opportunities, we need a plan. That is why in June, the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association (NEIA) submitted a series of recommendations for Newfoundland and Labrador’s economic recovery — with a key action being the creation of a “Clean Growth Directorate” within government. Between navigating resources, regulations, incentives and innovation supports, many government departments have a role to play in the pursuit of clean growth, but none are entirely responsible. A whole-of-government approach to clean growth — and meeting our net zero commitments — is required in order to attain the level of proactivity that is needed. With new provincial leadership comes an opportunity to take deliberate and targeted action.

The clean growth opportunity is immense. It not only provides environmental benefits, but also contributes to economic resilience in a world that is increasingly concerned with greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts. Newfoundland and Labrador is blessed with a wealth of resources and is home to a budding technology sector that can enable our province to become one of the cleanest jurisdictions on the planet and an inspiration to other regions around the world.

Let’s put people to work today, building the economy of tomorrow. NEIA stands ready as a partner in the pursuit of any and all options.

Kieran Hanley is executive director of NEIA, the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association.


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Global economy faces challenges amid pandemic, de-globalizing trend: experts



The development of the global economy faces various challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc worldwide and the de-globalizing trend is becoming ever stronger, experts said in an interview on Thursday with China Global Television Network (CGTN).

In the interview, Jimmy Zhu, chief strategist at Fullerton Research and James Early, CEO of Stansberry China, shared their views on how the world economy might evolve amid the pandemic and what the future path might be for the economic ties between China and the United States, the two major countries now accounting for over one-third of global economic output and over 50 percent of global growth.

Amid the pandemic, governments worldwide are striking a balance between reopening the economy and curbing the spread of the virus.

“Well, it’s a very difficult balance. In the beginning, people think, ‘Okay it’s a half-half’. But what we look at is once you need to open a business, especially the restaurants, the bars, it’s very easy to transition. So I think before the vaccine out finally, I mean I got to say, I hope it’s not, but it seems like it’s very difficult to balance the two. So sometimes the policymakers need to be a bit prudent or a bit flexible when dealing with such things,” Zhu said.

Beyond the epidemic, Early reckoned that the de-globalizing forces are growing worldwide, setting even more barriers for the free flow of trade.

“Well look, we will definitely have less of it and that’s just the bummer. As a simple example, I was looking at my iPhone and imagine if everybody had to make their own iPhone, it would just be so inefficient. Right? The globalization brings us great benefits. But to switch analogies, I was at the beach a few years ago and when I saw these little crabs and they were very timid. As soon as they got scared, they go into their hole. But then gradually they’d come back out again. And I think we’ll see the same thing with nations, meaning, we are de-globalizing, period. That’s happening, but it’s not really complete and it’s only going to probably be less than 10 year cycle, which is short in terms of humanity. And I think then things will start to move again. But it’s going to be a painful 10 years, and I think it’s going to teach us how precious that trade and globalization really is, because maybe we don’t value it enough right now,” said Early.

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