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COVID-19 roundup: 1.8 million jobs to go

Two people work on a home as Quebec lifts the ban on residential construction due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Deux-Montagnes, Que. in April 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
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It’s day 122 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 107,021 as of publication time, up 217 since yesterday—a six per cent decrease from the seven-day prior average of 230 new cases. At its peak on May 3, the seven-day average was 1,603 new cases a day. 

The World Health Organization reported a record jump in worldwide COVID-19 cases on Friday, with the total increasing by 228,102 in 24 hours.

Now comes the hard part: Canada’s economic reopening fuelled a 953,000-person increase in employment in June, according to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS), released Friday. Combined with May’s quarter-million-plus uptick, the record drops at the start of the pandemic—more than three million people lost their jobs in March and April combined—are being made up more rapidly than in the last two recessions, when returning to pre-downturn levels took two to five years.

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While people returned to work across the country, June’s gains were closely tied to the pace at which provinces relaxed their lockdowns. New Brunswick, which went first, posted 7.46 per cent month-over-month growth, the largest relative gain, adding 22,000 jobs. Ontario recorded the biggest absolute increase, with employment rising by 378,000, after being the only province to maintain the downward trajectory in May. And that uptick doesn’t fully factor in improvements in Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton, where residents couldn’t go to barbershops, restaurant patios or mall stores until June 24, two weeks later than most other Ontarians; the LFS was conducted between June 14 and 20. Quebec posted a second consecutive month of significant growth, adding 248,000 jobs in June.

The gender gap in the pandemic’s employment effects persisted through last month’s gains. A greater share of women than men who had jobs in February remain out of work across all age groups. The split is particularly noticeable among parents. Employment among fathers is close to pre-pandemic numbers, but mothers whose youngest child was six to 17 years old are five percentage points off their February levels. As policy expert Lauren Dobson-Hughes noted last week, lack of affordable child-care access and incomplete school reopenings have and will make it harder for women to return to work. And per economist Armine Yalnizyan, that weakens the economic recovery.

It’ll be harder going from here, other economists warned in the wake of the report. “The easing of restrictions, which led to a visible increase in activity, allowed many Canadians to resume jobs that had involved physical interactions,” CIBC Capital Markets senior economist Royce Mendes wrote in a Friday note. “However, that was low-hanging fruit in terms of a recovery.” Closing the remaining 1.8-million-person gap in employment from before the pandemic “and mending the longer-term fallout could be more challenging,” said Brendon Bernard, an economist at job site Indeed. But it’s encouraging that the June uptick included “a decline in the number of people out of work due to permanent layoffs,” not just furloughed staff getting back to their jobs. 

Businesses shuttered by lockdown measures posted the biggest absolute gains last month. Wholesale and retail-trade companies added 222,100 jobs. Accommodation and food-services firms increased employment by 163,700, although it remains a third below pre-pandemic levels. Goods-producing sectors also continued to climb in June, with construction increasing 6.67 per cent month over month and manufacturing 5.36 per cent.

The pandemic’s effects on the innovation-economy labour market have been muted, and June’s gains brought many fields back to pre-pandemic levels. Employment in professional occupations in natural and applied sciences—a category that includes engineers, software developers and bioscience experts—rose to an all-time high of 1.02 million last month, a 5.32 per cent increase over May. 

At the other end of the labour market, June brought a 19.3 per cent increase in employment for low-wage workers, with 414,000 additional jobs. But as Bernard noted on Twitter, the numbers are still far below where they were in February levels, even as high-paying jobs returned to pre-pandemic levels.

In the markets: All major North American indices closed up despite U.S. President Donald Trump saying reaching Phase 2 of his country’s trade deal with China was not a priority. Energy stocks helped lead the rise after oil prices jumped slightly. Tech firms were relative laggards, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq closing up 0.66 per cent compared with the Dow Jones 1.44 per cent. 

New U.S. coronavirus cases surpassed 63,000 on Thursday, sending long-term U.S. Treasury yields, a safe-haven asset, to their lowest levels since lockdowns started easing. Merger and acquisition deal volume for private equity firms fell sharply in the first half of the year. China’s Shanghai Composite Index closed down about two per cent, ending an eight-day rally of over 16.5 per cent, after several large state-owned investors unloaded stocks. Meanwhile, the Canadian dollar edged down to 73.54 cents U.S. in late afternoon trading. 

“We did not collaborate, or coordinate with our competitors. We never discussed it with our competitors. We would never do that”: Top executives from Loblaw, Metro and Empire Company told a House of Commons committee Friday they did not work together to end a $2-an-hour pay bump for their workers on the same day. All three grocers introduced a wage increase in March, at the height of the pandemic, in recognition of “the extraordinary efforts of our people at the height of pandemic-fuelled panic-buying,” said Loblaw president Sarah Davis. The top-up ended in response “to the gradual return to normal customer shopping behaviour and business volume,” said Metro CEO Eric La Flèche.

The two-hour hearing of the industry committee did reveal some communications on the issue between the three executives and other members of the grocery industry. Davis said she communicated the decision in “a courtesy email” to Walmart, Metro, Empire and Save-On-Foods; Empire CEO Michael Medline and La Flèche confirmed her statement in their remarks. La Flèche said when he asked his counterparts whether they would maintain the increase, they said a final decision was not yet made; this “did not inform our decisions” he said. Medline said Sobeys had made a decision prior to receiving Davis’s email, adding that the company would reinstate the premium if lockdowns were reinforced. 

“You have to understand we’d been working through a global pandemic. We had many conversations about the issues we were dealing with in our stores through the Retail Council of Canada,” Davis said, adding that such a premium had never been offered before. 

Sylvain Charlebois, a Dalhousie University professor of food distribution, told The Logic he doesn’t believe the grocers colluded. “I see it as some form of co-opetition (cooperating with the competition).” 

Bay Street to Main Street: Canada’s largest telecoms have started charging customers for data overages on home internet plans after months of waiving fees due to the pandemic. In March, The Logic reported that Videotron was the first Canadian telecom to suspend data caps. Other major telecoms quickly followed it. 

Now, Rogers, Bell, Telus and Videotron have told The Logic they started charging regular fees on the same day, July 1. “The majority of our customers are on unlimited plans,” said Telus spokesperson Douglas Self. “If they’re not, we’ve taken steps to make sure that it will be easy for customers to transition to unlimited so they can continue to work, learn and play at home without having to worry about overages.” 

  • Firms in downtown Toronto are offering the most space to sublet in four years as some look to lease less space and others to get out of their rentals altogether amid a broader pivot to work-from-home. 
  • Second Cup’s parent firm has opened its first cannabis dispensary and plans to have six more by the end of the year. 
  • Laval, Que.-based Alimentation Couche-Tard is reportedly working on a multibillion-dollar transaction to buy U.S. gas-station giant Speedway. 
  • The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations opposes a new federal regulation allowing training that usually takes place in simulators to be done in planes. The association is concerned the new rules are unsafe. 
  • The federal government is investing $4.5 million in three Franco-Ontarian businesses in Southern Ontario as part of a broader bid to help companies recover post-pandemic. 
  • The new International Centre of Expertise in Montréal for the Advancement of AI has opened its doors. It’s part of an international group led by France and Canada that promotes responsible AI use. 
  • Montreal-based video-streaming software maker Haivision has acquired Spain-based Teltoo. Terms were not disclosed.

Trace me on my cellphone: Alberta’s privacy commissioner has found the province’s contact-tracing app, which does not use Google and Apple’s API, collects less data than its global counterparts, but poses security risks for Apple devices due to safeguards needed to run the app that are “out of its control.” For example, Apple requires ABTraceTogether to run in the foreground, which leaves devices unlocked and more susceptible to theft. 

The report also found some inconsistencies in how long the app retains Bluetooth encounter logs: information provided on the Google Play Store says the logs are retained for 14 days, but Alberta Health said in its initial privacy assessment that contacts are logged for 21 days. It further noted that in order to fully withdraw participation from the app, users must delete it and also email the Health Information Act Help Desk—and that the necessity of the second step has not been made clear.

In the lab: The U.K. is set to reject the chance to join the EU’s coronavirus vaccine procurement program over concerns London would have little say in which vaccines were purchased, at what price and when. BioNTech and Pfizer’s vaccine will reportedly be ready to seek regulatory approval by the end of the year; several hundred million doses could be made before approval, and over one billion by the end of 2021. Gilead Sciences published new data today showing its antiviral drug remdesivir led to a 62 per cent reduction in the risk of death among severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Drinking from the firehose: 

  • Roughly 22 per cent of businesses who received Paycheck Protection Program assistance have laid off employees or planned to do so, an increase of eight percentage points from last month.
  • The work-from-home movement has sparked a run on PCs and laptops.
  • Not so long ago, American Airlines could hardly wait for its new Boeing 737 Max airplanes. Now it’s threatening to cancel its order. 
  • The U.S. subsidiary of Japanese home-goods company Muji filed for bankruptcy. 
  • There’s enough soap and hand sanitizer to go around, but a lack of hand pumps to dispense them.
  • Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are nearing US$2-trillion valuations. Any bets as to who gets there first?

Around the world: Two World Health Organization officials will spend the next two days in Beijing to set up for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19. China said samples of imported shrimp from Ecuador tested positive for the coronavirus. Hong Kong’s schools have closed a week early for the summer after a surge in cases. Hospitals in Idlib, Syria have suspended non-emergency procedures after identifying its first COVID-19 case. Barbados, which said last week it had recorded no active coronavirus cases, is offering a 12-month visa, or “welcome stamp,” to visitors. Formula One has tested 4,566 people for COVID-19, none of whom tested positive. 

A new Yale University study found that universities looking to reopen should test their students every two days to mitigate the chance of an outbreak: “On a college campus of 5,000 enrollees, screening of the students alone every two days will require roughly 195,000 test kits over the abbreviated semester.”

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Word to the NEOWISE: This comet only comes around once every 7,000 years, so take a break from Zoom and Netflix this weekend and try to spot it

* We’re emphasizing new cases, rather than running totals, because “flattening the curve” is when each day’s new cases are fewer than those of the previous day. The percentage increase is determined based on how today’s cases compare to a rolling seven-day prior average.

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