TORONTO — Small businesses facing the prospect of keeping their doors closed for at least two more weeks expressed doubt on Saturday as to whether to ramp up their operations amid uncertainty over the province’s tentative COVID-19 reopening plan.
Some entrepreneurs in the Toronto area, which is expected to remain under strict lockdown even as other regions of the province begin to ease public health restrictions, said they’re struggling to determine whether it’s worth taking on the financial and emotional risks of reopening for business without more clarity from the provincial government.
Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce on Monday that the state of emergency declared last month will be allowed to expire as scheduled on Feb. 9, according to a senior government source with knowledge of the decision. A stay-at-home order will likely remain in effect as the government transitions regions back to a colour-coded restrictions system over three weeks, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Toronto, Peel Region and York Region are expected to be the last to make that transition on the week of Feb. 22, but the source said any sudden increase in cases could delay that plan.
George Bozikis, who runs Hendriks Restaurant & Bar in downtown Toronto, said he cannot afford preparations to re-open on Feb. 22 if there is a chance the date could be pushed back.
Each time his location reopens, he says he must spend about $20,000 to get the 290-seat restaurant up and running in any capacity. The spending includes $10,000 on perishable food, much of which goes to waste if the restaurant must abruptly close again.
“Turning a profit isn’t even a question anymore. It’s, ‘Will we make enough money after we open to survive,’” Bozikis said in a telephone interview.
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The government source has said Ontario will have an “emergency brake” in place to allow the government to quickly move a region into lockdown if it “experiences a rapid acceleration in COVID-19 transmission or if the health-care system becomes overwhelmed.”
Bozikis and other business owners said they fear the proposed plan doesn’t offer the ray of hope they’ve been seeking over the course of the pandemic. They said anything short of widespread vaccination, a mass return to office buildings and malls or a long-term “yellow” or “green” stage reopening plan may not restore a sense of safety for them or their livelihoods.
Alan Liu, who runs Toronto Thai eatery Salad King, said stopping and starting is the hardest part of keeping his business afloat at the moment.
“Our biggest concern is to make sure we open safely?. A premature start that may result in a closure and a few weeks would be incredibly challenging,” he said.
Liu says he’s hesitant to reopen anything other than the restaurant’s takeout business without more assurances from the province, noting the cycle of rehiring and laying off staff takes an emotional toll on all concerned.
Liu feels pressure to make staffing decisions quickly so that employees can make childcare arrangements and qualify for benefits as soon as possible.
“Number one for us, as business owners, is predictability. Jumping the gun and opening too early is not necessarily what’s best for the business,” Liu said.
Chris Rampen, co-owner of Bu’na coffee shop and Nunu Ethiopian, said health risks lie at the heart of his reluctance to fully reopen the business.
“At least from what the experts are telling us, we have to be extremely careful in the next little while, given these new variants that appear to be extremely contagious,” he said.
His fears resonate with Erin Gamelin, owner of Toronto pubs Louis Cifer Brew Works and Stout Irish Pub, as does frustration around the government’s approach to handling the pandemic.
Gamelin said many policies seem unpredictable and arbitrary, such as allowing big box stores and schools to remain open and setting the same cap on gatherings for both large and small restaurants.
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“Closing down smaller businesses becomes a credibility issue when it doesn’t make logical sense,” she said. “Because there has been a lack of consistency of their decision-making and policy, I think that the general public has lost confidence in those decisions that they’re making.”
Ontario reported 1,388 cases of COVID-19 and 45 new deaths linked to the virus on Saturday.
The province said 1,021 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, with 325 in intensive care and 228 of those patients on a ventilator.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there are 455 new cases in Toronto, 288 in Peel and 131 in York Region.
Steven Del Duca, Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, said on Saturday that Ford’s economic recovery plan must include financial support for small businesses in regions that can’t re-open.
“Doug Ford plans to announce the re-opening of Ontario’s economy … after weeks of putting Big Box lobbyists and Amazon first while local entrepreneurs suffered,” Del Duca said in a statement. “If he’s going to re-open the economy, he needs to let small businesses lead Ontario’s economic recovery.”
— With files from Shawn Jeffords
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Alberta province halts AstraZeneca vaccine first shots due to supply issue
Alberta has stopped administering first doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine because of limited supply, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.
Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan said the change was due to supply issues rather concerns about rare side-effects.
“This decision is based on the fact that we are receiving no known future shipments of AstraZeneca at this time but are receiving large quantities of mRNA vaccines,” McMillan said in an email, referring to messenger RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech.
The shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines comes as the western oil-producing province of Alberta struggles with a surge in COVID-19 cases. Last week the provincial government introduced new restrictions to curb infections.
Alberta has administered approximately 255,000 first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The remaining supply of about 8,400 doses will be used as second doses.
Last week, Alberta reported its first case of a patient dying from a blood clot condition after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been three such deaths in Canada.
Despite the deaths linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, Canada‘s health regulator has continued to support the use of the vaccine and highlighted its benefits.
Dozens of countries paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine this year after reports of rare, but serious, blood clots. Several of them have now resumed use either fully or with restrictions after health regulators said the benefits of the shot outweigh any risks.
The province is now receiving large and consistent shipments of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with more than 236,000 doses arriving this week.
(Reporting by Nia WilliamsEditing by Bill Berkrot and Nick Zieminski)
BioNTech committed to deliver 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine this year
BioNTech SE said on Monday that its order backlog for delivery of COVID-19 vaccines this year together with partner Pfizer Inc had grown to 1.8 billion doses, underscoring its role as a major global supplier of immunization shots.
That was up from 1.4 billion doses announced in March.
Based on these delivery contracts, the company said it expects about 12.4 billion euros ($15.1 billion) in revenue from the vaccine this year, including sales, milestone payments from partners and a share of gross profit in the partners’ territories, up from a previous forecast of 9.8 billion euros.
More than 450 million doses of the two-shot vaccine known as Comirnaty were supplied globally as of May 6, 2021. By contrast, AstraZeneca, which has pledged to deliver up to 3 billion vaccine doses this year, said on April 30 it had supplied more than 300 million doses so far. That includes production from partners such as the Serum Institute of India.
BioNTech and Pfizer, which have been spared the type of production setbacks that have hobbled AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson , have repeatedly lifted projected delivery volumes amid a global scramble to speed vaccination campaigns.
Earlier on Monday, BioNTech unveiled plans to set up a new factory in Singapore to produce several hundred million doses of its mRNA vaccines per year from 2023.
BioNTech’s partner for China, Fosun Pharma , said on Sunday it would provide a factory with an annual capacity of up to 1 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine under a joint venture with BioNTech.
That followed a contract with the European Union for up to 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for 2021-2023, to cover booster shots, donations and reselling of doses.
BioNTech reported first-quarter total revenue of 2.05 billion euros, up from 27.7 million a year earlier, driven by vaccine sales, and including an estimated 1.75 billion euros from BioNTech’s share of gross profit from sales in Pfizer’s territories.
Quarterly net profit jumped to 1.13 billion euros, compared to a 53.4-million-euro loss in the year-earlier period.
The company said there was no evidence its current vaccine will need to be adapted to fight new virus variants, but added that it had developed strategies to address such variants should the need arise.
BioNTech reiterated that output capacity for the vaccine would reach 3 billion doses by the end of 2021, and more than 3 billion doses in 2022.
Pfizer last week said the pair was targeting production of as much as 4 billion doses of the shot next year, mostly for low- and middle-income countries.
($1 = 0.8222 euros)
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Thomas Escritt, Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)
Canada ready to discuss COVID-19 vaccine IP waiver, ‘not interfering or blocking’ -Trudeau
Canada is ready to discuss an intellectual property rights (IP) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and will not block one even though it stresses the importance of protecting patents, officials said on Friday.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving IP rights for COVID-19 vaccines. Any such waiver would have to be negotiated through the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“We’ve been working with partners at the WTO to find a consensus-based solution and are ready to discuss proposals, in particular for COVID-19 vaccines,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.
Biden’s proposal angered pharmaceutical companies. Firms working on vaccines have reported sharp revenue and profit gains during the crisis.
Canadian International Trade Minister Mary Ng earlier said that Ottawa firmly believed in the importance of protecting IP.
“I can assure you Canada is not interfering or blocking. Canada is very much working to find a solution,” said Trudeau, who did not give details of the Canadian negotiating stance.
Ng said Ottawa recognized how much the pharmaceutical industry had done to innovate COVID-19 vaccines, adding that many barriers to access were unrelated to IP, such as supply-chain constraints.
Canada is trying to quell a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic that is pushing some healthcare systems to breaking points, particularly in the western provinces of Alberta and Manitoba.
Manitoba officials said they were postponing some non-urgent surgeries to open space for COVID-19 patients and planned to announce tougher public health restrictions as daily cases soared to a near-record high.
The U.S. state of Montana will offer vaccines to around 2,000 Alberta truckers who regularly cross the border, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said.
Truckers will get vaccinated at a post being set up just south of the border, using Montana’s surplus Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The scheme mirrors an agreement that Saskatchewan and Manitoba reached with North Dakota.
(Additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by David Goodman/Mark Heinrich, Grant McCool and Marguerita Choy)
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