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
Ontario reports 994 new coronavirus cases; 10 more deaths – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Ontario reported 994 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and 10 additional deaths, as public health laboratories confirmed their largest count of additional cases involving variants of concern to date.
Across the GTA, Toronto reported 298 new cases, York Region reported 64, and Peel reported 171.
Ontario reported 958 new cases on Wednesday, 966 on Tuesday and 1,023 on Monday.
The seven-day rolling average of daily cases now stands at 1,063, down from 1,084 on Wednesday.
Two of the ten new deaths reported involved residents of long-term care homes.
Provincial labs processed 65,643 test specimens in the past 24 hours, generating a positivity rate of at least 2.1 per cent.
Another 42,723 specimens remain under investigation.
Using whole genomic sequencing, labs also confirmed another 92 new coronavirus cases involving variants of concern over the past day, bringing the total confirmed number of variant cases to 678, including 644 cases of the more highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant.
It’s the largest increase in confirmed variant cases reported in Ontario in 2021, though thousands more samples that have screened positive during initial PCR testing still await full confirmation.
Ontario’s Ministry of Health says the number of patients in hospital due to COVID-19 fell over the past 24 hours.
They say there were 649 patients in hospital receiving treatment on Thursday, down from 668 on Wednesday. Of those, 281 were in intensive care and 183 were breathing with the help of a ventilator.
But data from Critical Care Services Ontario obtained by CP24 on Thursday showed there were 326 people in intensive care on Thursday.
Elsewhere in the GTA, Halton Region reported 33 cases, Durham Region reported 23 new cases and Hamilton reported 40 new cases.
The province said it set a new record for administering COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, administering more than 30,000 shots.
The Ministry of Health says 784,828 doses have now been administered, and 268,100 people have completed a full two-dose inoculation.
Going forward, growth in the number of full inoculations may slow as Canadian provinces move to space out doses of COVID-19 vaccines up to four months apart.
The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.
Modified COVID-19 vaccines for variants to be fast-tracked Français – Canada NewsWire
Future vaccine modifications that respond to new variants of COVID-19 to be made available quickly to Canadians without compromising safety, efficacy or quality
OTTAWA, ON, March 4, 2021 /CNW/ – Health Canada announces new guidance issued today by the Access Consortium—a coalition of regulatory authorities from Canada, the U.K., Australia, Singapore and Switzerland. The guidance, developed by Health Canada in consultation with its Access partners, lays out what information regulators would need to approve any modifications to authorized COVID-19 vaccines, should virus mutations make them less effective at preventing COVID-19. With this guidance, authorized COVID-19 vaccines that are modified in response to new variants will need to be reviewed and authorized.
According to the guidance, vaccine manufacturers would need to provide evidence that the modified vaccine produces an immune response in a sufficient number of people, but clinical studies would not be needed since they do not add to the regulatory understanding of a vaccine’s safety, efficacy or quality.
This is because researchers are now better able to measure protection by looking at antibodies in the blood following vaccination, reducing the need to determine whether people in a trial develop the disease. This would reduce the length of time needed for a modified vaccine to be ready for use.
Along with data on the immune response, the vaccine manufacturer would also be expected to provide evidence of the modified vaccine’s safety and quality. Data from the original clinical trials and the ongoing studies on real-world use in millions of people can be used to support any decision by the regulators.
This approach is based on established regulatory processes used for seasonal flu vaccines, for which annual modifications are needed to match the strains circulating each year.
The Access Consortium began as the Heads of Agencies Consortium in 2007. Health Canada was a founding member of this group. The Consortium’s goal is to maximize international cooperation between partners in the Consortium, reduce duplication and increase each agency’s capacity to ensure patients have timely access to high quality, safe and effective therapeutic products, including vaccines, drugs and medical devices.
SOURCE Health Canada
For further information: Media Relations, Health Canada, 613-957-2983, [email protected]; COVID-19 public enquiries: 1-833-784-4397
EU to extend vaccine export control measures to end of June, sources say – Global News
The European Union is planning to extend its export authorization scheme for COVID-19 vaccines to the end of June, two EU sources told Reuters on Thursday, in a move that could reignite tensions with countries who rely on shots made in the EU.
The mechanism was set up at the end of January as a reaction to vaccine makers’ announcements of delays in the deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU.
It is due to expire at the end of March, but the European Commission wants to extend it through June, the two officials said.
“The Commission will propose its extension into June. And that was greeted by the member states with approval, not necessarily enthusiasm, but there is a feeling that we still need that mechanism,” one senior EU diplomat said.
The second official added that at a meeting with EU diplomats on Wednesday, many countries supported the measure, including heavyweights Germany and France.
The EU Commission was not immediately available for comment.
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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has also called for sanctions on companies that do not respect their contractual obligations with the EU.
When the EU’s export control mechanism was introduced in late January it triggered an outcry from importing countries who feared their vaccine supplies might have been hampered.
Under the scheme, companies must get authorization before exporting COVID-19 shots and may have export requests denied if they do not respect their supply commitments with the EU.
However, the EU has authorized all requests for export since the scheme’s debut on Jan. 30 to Feb. 26, which amounted to 150 requests for millions of shots to 29 countries, including Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Canada, an EU Commission spokeswoman said.
She added, however, that at least one request was withdrawn by an exporting company. She declined to elaborate.
Export requests mostly concern the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which is manufactured in Belgium. AstraZeneca and Moderna shots have also been exported from the EU.
Since Jan. 30 more than eight million vaccines were shipped from the EU to Britain, a third EU source said.
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Britain has so far prevented the export of AstraZeneca vaccines to the EU, using a U.K.-first clause in its supply contract with the Anglo-Swedish firm, EU officials have said.
The United States also has regulations that effectively ban vaccine exports, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference last week.
© 2021 Reuters
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