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Trump is prioritising the economy over the vulnerable – Al Jazeera English

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It is one thing to provide hope during a crisis – it is quite another to address people’s fears with empty promises. Unfortunately, US President Trump is engaging too much in the latter and not enough in the former as the coronavirus threatens to upend the United States healthcare system.

The latest development in the president’s critically flawed response to the pandemic is the false optimism that he has created by stating that the country “could open for business” by Easter.

What the US needs, right now, is leadership. Politicians who are true leaders in times of crisis provide well-conceived plans that prioritise the most vulnerable, while also issuing clear and calming statements when discussing matters with the public.

Is this what we receive from the White House? No, far from it – when we need clarity, we get confusion, and where facts and research should provide guidance, we are told that the economy takes precedence over everything else, people included.

So, what exactly are the facts?

On this front, many of us are in the dark. To know the actual extent of the coronavirus pandemic requires testing folks who may have it. That way, we would know who is sick and where they are.

Yet, the US lags significantly behind most other countries that have been administering tests, such as South Korea.

It is unclear what the administration’s efforts have been in this regard, for instance, whether the government turned down kits from the World Health Organization (WHO), or simply was slow to get the FDA to approve an alternative.

The result, however, is that the reported number of coronavirus cases is most likely an underestimate.

Yes, we can point fingers all we want, but we cannot change the past. We can plan with whatever information we do have.

We know from existing research that approximately 15 percent of the people who are infected will require hospitalisation. For every 1,000 people who have the virus, this means that about 150 people will need to be admitted to hospital.

We also know that people above the age of 65, individuals with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease or respiratory illnesses, as well as folks with weakened immune systems, are likely to fall seriously ill if they contract coronavirus.

It is also clear that the vast majority of those who catch the virus survive – studies place the death rate at 2 percent, perhaps even lower.

Research also shows that quarantine works. That much, at least according to the United Nations, has been made clear by analysing how China has successfully brought the spread of the virus under control.

Two clear action plans result from this information – first, the government needs to act swiftly and dedicate emergency resources for healthcare. Second, politicians should clearly tell people to stay at home.

Yet, where such steps need to be taken, Trump either drags his feet or misleads.

Consider the government’s slow action with respect to the Defense Production Act of 1950 which gives the president powers to compel businesses to follow orders deemed necessary for national defence. The president signed two decrees authorising the use of this Act which would make private companies prioritise carrying out government orders. However, he took days to issue any specific orders under the Act – only doing so on Friday to compel General Motors to produce ventilators. 

And why did it take so long? According to some reporting, Trump was worried about complaints from big business on how using the act would interfere with the market and private property.

There are others who would also prioritise the economy over everything else – the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Daniel Patrick. In expressing fear over “economic collapse” and that we are “losing the whole country”, this week, he followed Trump in stating that perhaps in a few weeks people should get back to work.

Yet, it seems that the Lieutenant Governor may not be the best person to consult at times like these. He is a small businessperson – not a doctor or healthcare professional – so let’s listen to them before we open businesses and go back to living as usual.

More importantly, we are receiving mixed messages from across the country as a whole. Individual states, such as California, New York and, more recently, Minnesota, have ordered non-essential workers to stay at home. There is no expiry date set with these orders.

It seems that Trump and Patrick think that they should expire at a certain time, while state governments have a different opinion.

More importantly, what will people do? If the president and some of his supporters think it is ok to resume our typical daily routines in three weeks’ time, why not make it two? Hell, why stay home at all?

With cases rising by the thousands daily across the country, and as something like 30 percent of infected people show no symptoms according to the research, then this seed of doubt concerning the need to stay home could grow into a monster.

In effect, it could render null all attempts to contain the virus, granting the contagion fertile ground to continue to spread globally.

So, will the US be “open for business” by Easter? Is this possible? I cannot say one way or another. But really, opening or closing the US is not the issue. What is necessary is for our leaders to act cautiously, with the information that is available, to create well-thought-out plans that keep the most vulnerable among us safe.

For the sake our friends, families and also for all the other people we do not know who have heart disease, AIDS, cancer or who are our elders, the president needs to act as if their safety is the reason for his actions.

This is what a leader would do – the question is, will Trump?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Province considering a regional approach to reopening economy – Tbnewswatch.com

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TORONTO, Ont. – With the province reaching what the Ontario government is calling the post-peak phase of the fight against COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford said he is considering taking a regional approach to reopening the economy. 

“I am now comfortable with asking our officials to look at a regional approach for a staged reopening,” Ford said during his daily media briefing on Friday.

“This will be one option we consider as we move into stage two. This is one option we are putting on the table. We are only able to do this now because we are able to get our testing to where we need it so the health officials are looking right now at what a regional model could look like.”

Previously, Ford had been adamant that reopening the economy would be a province-wide approach, but as testing continues to increase throughout Ontario, with daily tests approaching more than 18,000, Ford said there is a much clearer understanding of where outbreaks are taking place.

“The reality on the ground is very different across any parts of the province,” he said. “We are now getting a much better picture of what each region is dealing with. With more testing that picture becomes more and more clear.”

The province entered stage one of its three-stage framework for reopening last week, allowing certain businesses to open their doors with strict workplace guidelines in place.

“Let me be very clear, I am not prepared to take unnecessary risk when it comes to our health and safety,” Ford said. “We will continue to take a measured and cautious approach.”

What the approach will look like in terms of a regional reopening is to be determined by the province’s chief medical officer of health and the COVID-19 command table.

“We are looking at our table of how we would do regional opening,” said Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health. “What we’ve seen in the data lately, we are getting a picture of what is happening live time. A lot of our cases are focusing around the GTA. Some of our health units are not seeing any cases for two or three weeks in a row and that is very encouraging.”

But Williams added there still needs to be considerations taken to protect vulnerable remote communities, such as First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.

“We have to look at that and see where the cases are occurring,” Williams said. “One of the aspects we have to be careful of in our regionalization is we want to make sure that if cases are introduced or came back again and are further out, we are very concerned about the north, especially remote First Nation communities that we are very attentive to.”

“It’s not just some numbers at some time, it’s the wider picture we have to consider.”

In terms of when the province will enter stage two of reopening, whether it’s regional or province-wide, will depend on testing and the number of cases.

“We developed a plan very early on for three stages of opening,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “That is very important from a public health perspective. We are just now starting to see cases from the gradual reopening of our economy as part of stage one.”

“That will be thoroughly examined and we will decide when we should open up to stage two. The regionalization is a separate issue. The timing of the stages won’t be. That will be based on the number of new cases, the hospital capacity, the contact tracing. All of those things have to come together for the command table to feel that it is safe and make that recommendation.”

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Ford considering 'regional approach' to reopening economy; Ontario hits testing target for second straight day – Toronto Star

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The latest novel coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday (this file will be updated throughout the day). Web links to longer stories if available.

2 p.m.: A new testing strategy for COVID-19 will see “targeted campaigns” to check workers in Ontario communities with hot spots and key sectors where the virus spreads easily, including auto manufacturing, food suppliers and major retailers.

Officials unveiled the new blueprint Friday, with elements echoing what Premier Doug Ford has been saying for more than a week — and what epidemiologists have been pushing for much longer — to get a better picture of the illness as the economy reopens.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson.

1:48 p.m.: The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., is extending its cancellation of performances and public events until Aug. 1.

In a statement, the theatre festival said it was following a municipal order limiting organized mass gatherings in town due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can’t have a human, connected theatre without healthy humans, so we will do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe, whether they work here or are itching to come and watch us play,” artistic director Tim Carroll said in the statement.

The Shaw is taking a more incremental approach to cancellations than Ontario’s other major theatre festival. The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ont., announced in April that it was putting its entire 2020 season on hold indefinitely, saying it would not be able to put on plays even if physical distancing rules were eased this summer.

1:24 p.m. (updated): Ontario is implementing an expanded COVID-19 testing strategy, including targeting specific sectors and using mobile teams, and the increased data that will follow is prompting the premier to consider a regional approach to reopening.

Premier Doug Ford had been asked on multiple occasions about the idea and said it wasn’t on the table, but now he is asking health officials to show him what a regional model would look like.

“The reality on the ground is different in every part of the province,” Ford said Friday.

“With more testing, that testing becomes more and more clear and knowing that information will help us be more precise. It will help us be more targeted.”

Two-thirds of the province’s cases are in the Greater Toronto Area, while some public health units are reporting few, if any, active COVID-19 cases. Sudbury, for example, currently has none.

Ontario has at times struggled to meet its daily testing goals, and is now expanding the list of those who can get tested. The new testing strategy includes targeting specific workers and sometimes bringing mobile testing units to them.

12:45 p.m.: Quebec’s education department says a total of 41 students and teachers have tested positive for COVID-19 since elementary schools outside the Montreal area opened on May 11.

A survey of school boards conducted May 25 found that 19 students and 22 staff members were found to be infected in the first two weeks following the reopening.

The highest numbers of cases were in school boards in the Laurentians and Monteregie regions north and southeast of Montreal, with 10 cases each.

The survey is lacking numbers from 12 of the province’s 72 school boards, which did not provide data to the province.

12 p.m.: With Ontario reopening, the conversation surrounding social distancing is heating up.

Professor Chris Bauch, a professor and university research chair in the department of applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo, will answer your questions about physical distancing, social bubbling and the risks of community spread during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Join the Star’s conversation starting now.

11:45 a.m.: Nova Scotia is reporting no new cases of COVID-19 as the recent trend of a dwindling number of new infections continues.

The total number of confirmed cases remains at 1,055 with 978 people having recovered from the virus, while eight people are currently in hospital and three of them are in intensive care.

11:03 a.m.: The chief executive of the Vitalite health network in northern New Brunswick says the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak is a worst-case scenario in a region with underlying health issues and an older population.

Gilles Lanteigne says a male professional health-care provider has been suspended from work after coming into contact with more than 100 people. The province has said the man recently travelled to Quebec and returned to work without self-isolating.

Lanteigne declined to confirm the man’s professional title, citing privacy concerns in the small community.

The health authority has ramped up testing for people who came into contact with the worker and is providing tests to any community members who ask.

More than 200 people were tested Thursday evening and Lanteigne says elective surgeries have been suspended.

The cluster that grew to six confirmed cases Thursday has led to the adjournment of the provincial legislature and the rollback of reopening measures in the northern region known as Zone 5.

11 a.m.: For the second day in a row, Ontario says its testing labs have hit the provincial target of completing more than 16,000 tests a day.

According to the province’s morning update, the labs completed 18,525 tests Thursday. Before Wednesday, Ontario had missed its target on 10 consecutive days.

Meanwhile, as of 11 a.m. Friday, Ontario’s regional health units are reported a total of 28,544 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,272 deaths.

The total of 391 new confirmed and probable cases reported since the same time Thursday morning was up from the previous day, but still below a rising trend that saw the health unit totals above 400 per day most of last week.

The growth in new infections across Ontario has not been felt equally in the province. The daily count of new cases has been falling outside of the GTA over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, numbers inside the city have rebounded after falling some from the peak rates seen last month.

The Thursday morning tally includes the 201 new cases Toronto and 92 more in Peel Region reported Thursday afternoon; together, the two health units accounted for more nearly three-quarters of the province’s new infections.

The 24 fatal cases reported in the province since Wednesday evening were in line with a recent flat trend. Still, the rate of deaths is down considerably since peaking at more than 90 deaths in a day earlier this month, about two weeks after the daily case totals hit a first peak in mid-April.

Because many health units publish tallies to their websites before reporting to Public Health Ontario, the Star’s count is more current than the data the province puts out each morning.

Earlier Friday, the province reported 826 patients are now hospitalized with COVID-19, including 129 in intensive care, of whom 100 are on a ventilator — numbers that have fallen about 20-30 per cent this month. The province also says nearly 21,000 patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus have now recovered from the disease — more than three-quarters of the total infected.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths — 2,189 — may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

The provincial data also revealed another day with high demand for testing at the province’s assessment centres. About 20,000 newly collected samples were added to provincial testing queues, the second day in a row well above the target. The rate of test completion in the labs has tended to lag a day or two behind demand at the centres.

The province says it has the capacity to complete about 20,000 tests each day.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson.

10:15 a.m.: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to address reporters at 10:30 a.m. in his daily briefing. A livestream of his news conference is available at thestar.com

10:10 a.m.: Ontario will reveal a new phase in its COVID-19 testing strategy today, as it tries to perform more tests to gauge the province’s phased reopening.

Officials including the president and CEO of Ontario Health, the head of Ontario’s testing approach, and the chief of medical microbiology at the Public Health Ontario lab are set to hold a briefing on the new strategy.

Ontario has struggled on several occasions to meet its daily testing goals.

Most recently, the province had said it would do 16,000 tests per day in May, but has met that goal less than half of the time.

Levels dropped sharply once a blitz of nearly all long-term care residents and staff was completed over the long weekend, but they have picked up again in recent days after Ontario relaxed criteria for members of the public to be tested.

Anyone concerned they may have been exposed to COVID-19 can now get tested, whether or not they have symptoms.

Premier Doug Ford has spoken about testing asymptomatic front-line health-care workers, large workplaces such as food manufacturing facilities, groups such as truck or taxi drivers, and doing a second round of testing in long-term care.

He said mass testing is the province’s best defence against the virus.

Ontario reported completing 17,615 tests Thursday. The province currently has a daily capacity of nearly 20,000.

9:39 a.m.: Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the federal government will spend another $650 million to help Indigenous communities cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s in addition to $305 million previously promised to help First Nations reserves, and Inuit and Metis communities with supplies, medical care and facilities that allow for physical distancing.

Miller says that although the first wave of COVID-19 appears to be receding, the threat of a second wave is very real and Indigenous communities will be just as vulnerable to it as they were to the first.

9:20 a.m.: Going to Trinity Bellwoods this weekend? To avoid unsafe crowding at the park as the weather heats up, the city has spray painted circles on the east field to ensure physical distancing following the model of parks in other major cities like New York City and San Francisco.

Here’s what you need to know about the park circles.

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8:45 a.m. Statistics Canada says the economy in the first quarter had its worst showing since 2009 as steps taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 forced businesses across the country to close their doors and lay off workers.

Statistics Canada says gross domestic product fell at an annualized rate of 8.2 per cent in the first three months of 2020.

The collapse came as gross domestic product for March fell 7.2 per cent as restrictions by public health officials and school closures began rolling out during the month.

The average economist estimate is for a nine per cent drop in gross domestic product for March, while the average estimate for the first quarter as a whole is for a GDP pullback at a annualized pace of 10 per cent, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

7:45 a.m.: Worshippers in Turkey have held their first communal Friday prayers in 74 days after the government reopened some mosques as part of its plans to relax measures in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Prayers were held in the courtyards of selected mosques, to minimize the risk of infection.

Authorities distributed masks at the entrance to the mosques, sprayed hand sanitizers, and checked temperatures.

Worshippers were asked to bring their own prayer rugs, but some mosques offered disposable paper rugs which were placed 1.5 metres apart.

The partial opening of the mosques follows a slowdown in the confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths in the country.

7:29 a.m.: The Swiss soccer league will restart on June 20 in empty stadiums.

The league says the 20 clubs in the top two divisions have voted 17-2 in favour of resuming. There was one abstention.

The league has been shut down since February because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are 13 rounds left in the top division and the league wants to complete the season on Aug. 2.

St. Gallen leads defending champion Young Boys on goal difference. Third-place Basel trails by five points.

Basel is also still in the Europa League. UEFA hopes to complete that competition in August after domestic seasons end.

The league says a separate vote to increase the top division from 10 teams to 12 failed to pass.

5:55 a.m.: The federal government is pumping millions more into helping remote and rural Indigenous communities cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce today significant new funding for First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, part of which is intended to help them bolster their public health response to the pandemic.

That could include measures such as hiring more health care workers, building isolation facilities or purchasing medical supplies and equipment.

Another part of the funding is to go to financial support for residents living in these remote communities to help cover the pandemic-induced increase in their cost of living.

And a third part is to be dedicated to helping the communities build women’s shelters, amid reports that domestic violence has spiked as families have been forced to isolate themselves to curb the spread of the deadly virus that causes COVID-19.

The new funding is on top of the $305-million Indigenous Community Support Fund, which the federal government created in March to help First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities prepare for and cope with the pandemic.

5:40 a.m.: Canada’s top health official says proposals are being reviewed from sports leagues looking to resume play — including the NHL.

But Dr. Theresa Tam says the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering the country remains in place for now.

Tam says that protecting Canadians remains the key objective when considering a resumption of activities that were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including professional sports.

Tam’s comments came two days after the NHL announced its plans to resume its 2019-20 season, which calls for games to be played out of two hub cities.

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto are among the 10 cities shortlisted by the NHL as potential locations.

But deputy commissioner Bill Daly has said those markets would be out of the running if the mandatory quarantine at Canada’s international border remains in place.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for assistance in coming up with a solution.

5:35 a.m.: If trade deals were football players, Canada’s agreement with the United States and Mexico would have been considered a second-stringer a year ago compared to President Donald Trump’s original Hail Mary effort to secure a new pact with China.

But now that COVID-19 has rendered China an international pariah and touched off a global movement to “reshore” manufacturing capacity, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement suddenly finds itself in the spotlight — and under pressure to bring home a win.

“Serendipitous is the right word,” said Pedro Antunes, chief economist of the Conference Board of Canada, of the political and economic conditions that will greet the USMCA when it comes into force July 1.

“There’s a lot of talk of shortening supply chains, bringing supply chains domestically, and I see that as playing out in favour of Canada’s relationship with the U.S. — perhaps strengthening that relationship and those trade ties within North America, within Canada and with the U.S. economy.”

The agreement — known in official Canadian circles as CUSMA or ACEUM, T-MEC in Mexico and “the new NAFTA” pretty much everywhere else — was forged during an arduous 13 months in 2017 and 2018, long before “pandemic” would become a household word across North America. This summer, it will make its debut in a world dramatically different than that of its predecessor.

In the U.S., where Trump is shrugging off a COVID-19 death toll that surpassed 100,000 on Wednesday and aggressively cheerleading a rapid return to business as usual, the White House is now clearly counting on the USMCA, as well as its signatories, to help lead the North American recovery.

4 a.m.: Statistics Canada is expected to report today that economic growth swung negative in March and the first quarter as a whole due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The average economist estimate is for a nine-per-cent drop in gross domestic product for March, while the average estimate for the first quarter as a whole is for a GDP pullback at an annualized pace of 10 per cent, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

The agency said real gross domestic product was essentially unchanged in February as it was hit by teacher strikes in Ontario and rail blockades across many parts of the country.

Declines in educational services and disruptions in the transportation and warehousing sector offset growth in other areas.

In a preliminary estimate for March released last month, Statistics Canada said the economy posted a nine per cent decline as business came to a standstill due to measures taken to slow the spread of the pandemic.

Thursday 7:21 p.m.: India is the latest country whose coronavirus death toll has topped the number of lives lost in China, where the pandemic started, as hot spots shift to developing countries ill-equipped to contain its spread.

The South Asian nation’s death toll hit 4,695 on Thursday, climbing past the 4,638 fatalities from COVID-19 in China. The nation of 1.3 billion people now has the highest number of fatalities in Asia, excluding Iran, despite the largest lockdown in the world.

The country’s death toll quadrupled in less than a month, accelerating by more than 1,000 over the past week, while infections have been soaring at a similar pace. Government experts have begun to acknowledge the outbreak won’t peak until June or July.

Thursday 5 p.m. Ontario’s regional health units are reporting another 382 new COVID-19 infections, according to the Star’s latest count.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Ontario’s regional health units are reported a total of 28,512 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,275 deaths.

The total of 382 new confirmed and probable cases reported since the same time Wednesday evening was up about 60 from the previous day, but still below a string of days last week that saw more than 400 new cases reported.

The recent case growth not been felt equally in the province; the daily count of new cases has been falling outside of the GTA over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, numbers inside the region have rebounded after falling some from the peak rates seen last month.

Thursday’s tally includes 201 new cases in Toronto and 92 more in Peel Region; together, the two health units accounted for more than three-quarters of the province’s new infections.

Meanwhile, the 29 fatal cases reported in the province since Wednesday evening were in line with a recent flat trend. Still, the rate of deaths is down considerably since peaking at more than 90 deaths in a day earlier this month, about two weeks after the daily case totals hit a first peak in mid-April.

Read more of Thursday’s coverage here.

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Canada's economy saw record decline in March; worse numbers forecast for April – The Globe and Mail

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A woman wearing a face mask walks past a closed Lululemon store in Vancouver on May 17, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The Canadian economy took a record-setting dive in March as provinces imposed lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, a preview of worse numbers to come for April.

Real gross domestic product fell 7.2 per cent in March from February, the largest monthly decline since the series began in 1961, Statistics Canada said Friday. For the first quarter, real GDP dropped at an 8.2-per-cent annualized rate, the worst since the financial crisis.

Worse numbers are on the way. The statistical agency estimated an 11-per-cent decline in real GDP in April, the first full month with lockdown restrictions in place.

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Contractions were nearly unavoidable. Nineteen of 20 industrial sectors were down in March, highlighted by steep declines in accommodation and food services, arts and recreation, and transportation and warehousing.

Household spending fell 2.3 per cent in the first quarter, the largest quarterly decline on record.

“Spending reductions were influenced by substantial job losses, income uncertainty and limited opportunities to spend because of the mandatory closure of non-essential retail stores, restaurants and services, and restrictions on travel and tourism activities,” Statscan said.

Both export and import volumes fell in the quarter for a multitude of reasons: weaker demand, the halt in cross-border tourism, the shutdown of manufacturing plants and the rail blockades in February. A weaker Canadian dollar also weighed on imports.

As expected during a recession, people are saving more cash, when it’s possible. The household savings rate climbed to 6.1 per cent in the first quarter from 3.6 per cent in the fourth quarter. This is an aggregate rate, with Statscan noting that “in general, savings rates are higher for higher income brackets.”

The second quarter is shaping up as a decimation. Bank of Montreal has forecast that real GDP will collapse at a 44-per-cent annualized rate before rebounding in the third quarter. Much of the damage will be restricted to April, given that provinces embarked on reopening plans in May.

As such, it’s possible that April will represent the bottom of the economic downturn. In May, several indicators – new job postings, cross-border truck crossings and business confidence – have shown improvement, although remain well below precrisis levels.

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Earlier this week, the Conference Board of Canada said national real GDP would decline by 4.3 per cent in 2020, with Prairie provinces faring the worst.

“Just three months ago, we were projecting 2020 to be the first year of a long awaited economic recovery in Alberta,” the think tank said. “Now, the province is eyeing its worst recession on record.”

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