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Canada COVID-19 update: Wage subsidies, rate cuts, possible charge for coughing

Latest collection of news briefs from around Canada, including how a fake note shut down a workplace

Bank rate slashed again, BoC governor says he has more room to manoeuvre

OTTAWA — Canada’s central bank made yet another unscheduled rate cut Friday to bring its key interest target down to a crisis-level low, and the federal government upped its financial lifeline to businesses in a two-pronged effort to further combat the economic shock from COVID-19.

It was the double shock from the novel coronavirus and a sharp drop in oil prices that spurred the Bank of Canada’s surprise announcement — its second unscheduled cut this month and third overall this month — to lower its rate by half a percentage point to 0.25 per cent after it started the month at 1.75 per cent.

The interest rate cut takes the key rate to what the central bank referred to as “its effective lower bound” or the lowest level that rates can be set, although they alone may not spur economic activity because workers are being asked to stay home.

Governor Stephen Poloz said there are still tools left in the central bank’s kit, but it was trying to do everything it can right now to deal with deep economic shock.

“A firefighter has never been criticized for using too much water,” Poloz said.

Wage subsidy to climb to 75 per cent

OTTAWA — The federal government announced it was upping its proposed wage subsidy for businesses to 75 per cent. A broad swath of business and labour groups had criticized the original proposal of a 10 per cent subsidy for falling well short of what was needed to avoid mass layoffs.

Canadians will get a better picture of the employment situation early next month when Statistics Canada releases its monthly labour force survey. Chief statistician Anil Arora issued a plea Friday for more companies to respond in multiple cities, including Toronto and Vancouver, to help get “the most accurate account of the situation.”

The Liberals said they are also working with banks to provide loans of up to $40,000 for small businesses. They will be interest-free for the first year and up to $10,000 could be waived for repayment if the loan is paid off by Dec. 31, 2022.

The moves add to the value of the bailout package to date to more than $200 billion, including $52 billion in direct spending, $85 billion in tax deferrals for individuals and businesses, and $65 billion in loans. TD Economics, in a research note, estimated the boost to the wage subsidy could add $25 billion in direct spending to the total.

In these times, coughing in someone’s face can be assault

A male in southern New Brunswick is facing an assault charge for allegedly coughing in someone’s face.

Police say they were called Thursday morning to a home on Hampton Road in Rothesay where the occupants complained that two other people had failed to isolate themselves after returning home from travelling abroad.

The Kennebecasis Regional Police Force says one male was arrested for uttering threats and assault for “purposely coughing in someone’s face while feeling ill.”

Under the province’s emergency rules for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, anyone who returns to the province from international travel must isolate themselves from others for 14 days.

Fake COVID-19 and you could be charged

Hamilton police say they’ve charged a teenage fast-food employee after she allegedly faked a doctor’s note saying she had COVID-19.

Police say the 18-year-old woman worked at a McDonald’s, which was immediately forced to close on Monday and send all its employees home to self-isolate.

Investigators say the restaurant was closed for several days and sanitized by a professional cleaning team.

She’s facing multiple charges including mischief over $5000, fraud over $5000 and making and using a forged document.

Coronavirus hits Saskatchewan jail

Two staff at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union says the two cases raise alarm about the safety of its members.

The provincial government says the two workers have been directed to self-isolate at home and officials are notifying people they might have come into contact with.

The province also says it’s working on how to manage the inmate population in light of the pandemic.

104 coronavirus cases in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is reporting more than 100 cases of COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health says there’s nine new confirmed cases bringing the province’s total to 104.

It says six cases are linked to community transmission while the rest are travel-related.

There are also six patients in the hospital, two in intensive care.

Eleven coronavirus cases in PEI

Prince Edward Island chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison says the Island has two more confirmed cases of COVID-19 Friday, bringing the provincial total to 11.

The latest cases had both returned from international travel.

One case involves a woman in her 20s and the other is a woman in her 50s. Both live in Prince County.

Morrison says both women are self-isolating.

Manitoba sets up information checkpoints

The Manitoba government is setting up information checkpoints at some airports and interprovincial highway border crossings to inform travellers about their obligations to help the fight against COVID-19.

Staff will give travellers from out of province information about the need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen says people will also be told about ways they can get groceries delivered to them instead of going to the store themselves.

The checkpoints will be at airports in Brandon and Winnipeg, and at some highway border crossings with Ontario and Saskatchewan.

B.C.’s worst case scenario modelled out

British Columbia has release its “worst case scenario” data related to the COVID-19 pandemic but the numbers show the province believes it will more closely mirror the South Korean experience, rather than the situation in Italy.

A briefing offered today by health officials, including B.C. medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, shows the province would be overwhelmed if it saw a scale of COVID-19 cases similar to Italy.

But officials say the model shows B.C. is already developing a “cascading” approach to free up additional hospital and other capacity over time.

Data suggests travel restrictions and social distancing measures are beginning to have an impact and the trajectory of new cases in B.C. changed from a 24 per cent average daily increase to 12 per cent as of March 21 — but experts aren’t ready to predict that the curve is flattening.

Total of 45 cases in New Brunswick

New Brunswick is announcing 12 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, for a total of 45.

Chief public health officer Jennifer Russell said today 11 of the cases are travel-related while one is being investigated as a possible case of community transmission.

Russell says one new case cannot be traced to an infection that occurred outside the province.

Premier Blaine Higgs today urged people in New Brunswick to stay home as much as possible and to self-isolate for 14 days if returning from abroad.

Does the 75% wage subsidy have a cap? Finance minister won’t say

Finance Minister Bill Morneau won’t say whether a promised 75 per cent wage subsidy for employers struggling to pay their employees will have a cap, saying more details will be rolled out soon.

The federal government announced this morning that was increasing the wage subsidy from the 10 per cent announced last week so employers don’t have to lay off their staff.

Morneau also says the support and loans promised for small businesses on Friday amounts to about $95 billion, which is in addition to the $52-billion in direct support to Canadians that was approved by Parliament earlier this week and $55 billion in deferred income tax.

Federal package for small businesses includes GST/HST deferments

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the federal government is deferring GST/HST payments from businesses until the end of June so companies have money to pay their employees and bills during the COVID-19 crisis.

He says the move will leave around $30 billion in cash in the hands of businesses.

Morneau also says small businesses that access up to $40,000 in government-guaranteed, interest-free loans from banks to help endure the crisis could be allowed to keep up to $10,000 if they repay the rest of the loan by the end of 2022.

The measures are part of a broader package of federal support for small businesses announced on Friday amid concerns about the impact the pandemic will have on the economy.

10 more coronavirus deaths in Quebec

Quebec is announcing 10 more COVID-19 deaths in the province, bringing its total to 18.

Premier Francois Legault said today the province recorded another 392 positive COVID-19 test results, for a total of 2,021 cases.

Legault says another 35 people have been hospitalized since yesterday, including seven more people who are in intensive care.

The premier is also asking Quebecers to avoid travelling to Montreal and to the Eastern Townships area, which he says are the two regions of the province with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

More than 100 coronavirus cases in Newfoundland

Newfoundland and Labrador has reported 20 more positive cases of COVID-19 and reported its first hospitalization from the virus today. The province has now reported 102 cases of the illness.

Nineteen of the new cases are in the Eastern Health authority and one is in Labrador-Grenfell Health.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says 68 cases in the province are directly linked to an exposure at a funeral home in St. John’s between March 15 and 17.

She says the funeral home incident illustrates the importance of distancing measures.

Timing of Quebec’s March break may have accelerated infection rate

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo suggests Quebec has been hard hit by COVID-19 in part because its March break was earlier than the rest of the country.

March break in Quebec was held from March 2-6, when the scope of the virus was still unknown and governments at all levels in Canada had yet to start enforcing stringent measures to prevent its spread.

Other provinces had their March break from March 16-20, after travel restrictions and efforts to start semi-isolating were starting to be implemented.

Njoo also says the current crisis is going to last months, not days or weeks.

PEI non-essential businesses must remain closed indefinitely

Prince Edward Island’s chief medical officer of health says the province’s schools and daycare centres will remain closed until May 11.

Dr. Heather Morrison also says all non-essential government services and businesses must remain closed indefinitely.

Morrison reported no new cases of COVID-19 on the Island. The province has nine confirmed cases. (edited)

Seventeen more coronavirus cases in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is reporting 17 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 90 confirmed cases.

Health officials say most of the cases are connected to travel or a known case.

None of the new cases reported Friday are connected to the St. Patrick’s Day gathering March 14 in Lake Echo, outside of Halifax.

Officials say all of the attendees at the event are being contacted and at this point, public health cannot confirm a link to community spread.

Canada urgently following up with the U.S. on asylum seekers

Deputy Prime Minister Freeland says Canadian officials are urgently following up with American counterparts following reports the U.S. may deport asylum seekers who are turned away by Canada and may be at risk in their native countries, contrary to international agreements.

Canada closed the border to illegal asylum seekers last week in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Freeland won’t say whether Canada will reopen the border to illegal agreements, saying she did not want to negotiate with U.S. officials in public.

Canada opposes American troops near border

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says it is up to the U.S. to say whether it has abandoned a plan to send American troops to the border with Canada, but that Canadian officials continue to oppose the idea.

Deputy public health officer Howard Njoo says federal health authorities are looking at ways to increase testing, including new technologies.

But he says authorities need to make sure any new approach is reliable.

First COVID-19 death in Manitoba

Manitoba has recorded its first death from COVID-19 - a woman in her 60s who was in critical condition earlier this week.

The provincial government is also reporting three new cases, bringing the total to 39.

The province is now only allowing public gatherings of 10 people, down from an earlier limit of 50.

Ontario cases approach 1,000

Ontario is reporting 135 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the provincial total to 993.

There are three new deaths, meaning 18 people have died of the virus in Ontario.

No information is available for any of the new cases, with all of them listed as “pending.”

Free mental-health therapy in Manitoba

The Manitoba government is offering free mental-health therapy to people suffering from anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy program will be offered to any Manitoban over the age of 15 for up to one year.

The program is being provided by human-resources firm Morneau Shepell, and the province says it will spend an estimated $4.5 million to provide the service.

Premier Brian Pallister says many people are worried about getting sick, losing jobs or being isolated, and the online tool should help.

PM reassures people after Service Canada closes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says special considerations will be made for those unable to access federal government services online after Service Canada decided to close its centres this week.

He said the centres were closed because of staff fears of COVID-19.

There have been concerns about seniors, Indigenous people and low-income Canadians who don’t have access to computers and the internet being able to apply for support.

Details on small business relief to possibly be provided by Monday

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government needs to hammer out the details around how supports for small businesses will be implemented, which he hopes to provide by Monday.

Trudeau says these are exceptional times and that the government needs to step up and support Canadians at a time when the economy is nearly at a halt.

Asked about paying for the measures, the prime minister says the government’s economic foundations were strong before the pandemic and he expressed confidence the economy will bounce back after COVID passes.

U.S. troop movement questions sidestepped by PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sidestepped questions about whether the U.S. has decided not to send troops to its border with Canada.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday night that American officials had nixed the plan following fierce push-back from Canadian authorities.

Reiterating the importance of keeping the border undefended, Trudeau said Canadian and American officials continue to have a range of discussions about the border and that the federal government would provide more information when it has it.

Three confirmed coronavirus cases in Yukon

Yukon has three confirmed cases of COVID-19, but health officials in the territory are warning that some Whitehorse residents may have been exposed at two local businesses.

A statement from Yukon’s Health and Social Services Ministry says anyone who was at Elias Dental on March 9, 13 or 16 or a Bethany Church gathering on March 8 or 15, may have been exposed.

The statement says two people have tested positive after one visited the church event and the other was at the dental office, and both are recovering at home with “no ongoing risk to the community.”

Anyone who visited the church or the dental office on the listed dates is asked to monitor for fever, cough or difficulty breathing over the next 14 days, and to self-isolate and call 8-1-1 if symptoms develop.

Deficit could approach $113 billion

Parliament’s budget watchdog is projecting that the federal deficit for the coming fiscal year could be $112.7 billion.

That’s a jump of $89.5 billion from previous forecasts as government spending climbs to combat the economic fallout from COVID-19.

The report made public this morning also warns that the deficit for the current fiscal year, which closes March 31, could be $26.7 billion, which would be an increase of $5.5 billion compared to the budget officer’s November forecast.

The projected deficit for the 2020-2021 fiscal year doesn’t include extra spending the Liberals announced on Wednesday in the form of a new benefit for affected workers.

That measure pushed direct spending on the government’s economic bailout package to $52 billion from $27 billion.

Parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux’s report also predicts that the economy will contract by 5.1 per cent this calendar year, the weakest on record since 1962.