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COVID-19 roundup: Air Canada wants governments to loosen restrictions

An Air Canada flight lands at the Calgary International Airport in October 2017. Shutterstock/Heather Dunbar
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It’s day 93 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 97,474 as of publication time, up 349 since yesterday—a 36 per cent decrease from the seven-day prior average of new cases. 

The pandemic took 98 days to reach 100,000 cases in Africa—but only 18 days to double that figure, according to the WHO.

A tale of two travel companies: Air Canada CEO Calvin Rovinescu wants governments across the country to loosen restrictions on visitors, arguing carriers should be allowed “to do some reasonable amounts of business.” He took issue with Ottawa’s 14-day quarantine requirement for anyone entering Canada—mainly returning residents, since most visitors can’t get visas right now—and provincial restrictions on residents from other parts of the country.  

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People in Canada may not be flying, but they are still planning to go places. Airbnb reported Thursday domestic bookings were up 30 per cent year-over-year for the first week of June, and 60 per cent of the places reserved were in non-urban markets. Many are weekend trips to nearby places; no one’s flying Air Canada from Calgary to Banff, or Toronto to Buckhorn, Ont. 

Still, the hospitality sector—including tourism—remains hard hit by the pandemic. Employment in accommodation and food services dropped 46.6 per cent between February and May. Ottawa has waived $331.4 million in rent payments for airports operators, but hasn’t yet advanced specific support for the companies that fly passengers to and from them. Air Canada initially used the federal wage-subsidy program to pay some employees, but later decided that wasn’t sustainable and has announced it will cut 20,000 staff. It’s also raised $1.6 billion in new equity and debt funding to stay airborne.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains’s new industry council, set up to provide advice on sector-specific measures for the recovery, includes a tourism representative: Ben Cowan-Dewar, CEO of the Cabot Links golf course in Inverness, N.S. The resort has backed a local airport project, but councillors in neighbouring Port Hawkesbury argue it would hurt their own facility. Air Canada doesn’t fly there.   

In the markets: The Dow Jones lost over 1,800 points by close, a 6.9 per cent decrease and its biggest one-day drop since March. The other major North American indices fared slightly better. but still lost over four per cent by close. The drops come as the U.S. surpassed two million COVID-19 cases, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) echoed Wednesday’s warnings from the OECD and the U.S. Federal Reserve that economic recovery will be slow and uneven at best. 

IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said 100 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty due to the pandemic. Georgieva said governments have spent US$10 trillion collectively so far, but more spending is needed and it should focus on preventing an increase in inequality and maintaining jobs. 

North American markets aren’t the only ones taking a drubbing. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 fell 4.1 per cent Thursday, Japan’s Nikkei recorded its biggest one-day loss since May and markets in Australia and Hong Kong fell. Part of the concern is a growing spike in regions trying to reopen their economics, which could keep activity low even without further lockdowns. The Canadian dollar dropped sharply from the three-month intraday high it hit Wednesday, falling 1.59 per cent in late afternoon trading to reach 73.41 cents U.S. 

Oil also dropped Thursday on concerns that a slowed reopening will keep demand low. New unemployment claims in the U.S. fell to 1.5 million in the week ending May 30, with the total number of people drawing unemployment benefits dropping to 20.9 million. The pre-pandemic record was 6.6 million. 

“You know I’ve had this mask on pretty much the whole day, and you just forget about it after a while, and I think that’s going to be a part of maintaining the magic:” Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who took over in February, says Disney World is ready—and safe—for visitors. 

Cross-country checkup: Manitoba unveiled details of its next reopening phase, tentatively scheduled for June 21. Under the new guidance, the province may remove isolation requirements for travelers from Western Canada and Northwestern Ontario, gatherings could increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, day camps can increase capacity to 50 kids and daycares can resume pre-pandemic operations. Ontario universities are processing nearly as many admissions applications as they were before the pandemic, despite the shift to online learning. New Brunswick doctor Jean Robert Ngola said private investigators have rejected claims he was “patient zero” in the COVID-19 outbreak in the province’s Campbellton region that began after he returned from Quebec with the virus and didn’t self-isolate. Nova Scotia’s top doctor will be self isolating for 14 days after he travels to New Brunswick for a medical procedure. One-third of migrant workers on a farm in Quebec owned by Vegpro International, one of the biggest vegetable producers in Canada, have contracted COVID-19. Real-time data of job postings, restaurant bookings and mobility tacking suggests Canada’s economic recovery is two to three weeks behind that of the U.S.

Bay Street to Main Street: Queen’s Park and Ottawa have joined forces to invest $57.6 million in Digital Main Street to help nearly 23,000 of Ontario small businesses boost their online presence and sales. A portion of the investment will cover the costs to hire additional students and support staff to build online stores for businesses through the ShopHere program. The Toronto Region Board of Trade has also received $7.5 million for its Recovery Action Program, a free service that will offer over 1,000 small- and medium-sized businesses across Ontario $40,000 worth of training to move their operations online.

  • Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners closed its acquisition of Xplornet, which offers telecom services to about a million Canadians. 
  • Transat intends to open its flights and tour operations on July 23 if governments lift travel bans. 
  • Toronto-based startup Lane, which facilitates office space communications, raised $10 million in a round led by Round 13 Capital. 
  • Silicon Valley-headquartered innovation hub Plug and Play is opening an office in Mississauga, its first Canadian location. 
  • Real estate firm SmartCentres closed a $600 million round. 

Crowdsourcing the crisis: Tech non-profit Ample Labs has created a chatbot, Chalmers, to help match individuals with meals funded by FoodFundTO. Localhood has launched an online community to highlight local businesses in Toronto to make it easier for Canadians to support them. Ontario had launched “Ontario Live,” a virtual hub to promote and support businesses in tourism, sport and other creative sectors. 

In the lab: Moderna is planning to recruit 30,000 participants for the placebo-controlled U.S. trial of its vaccine, which it expects to begin next month; the Cambridge, Mass.-based company said it will be able to produce enough doses for 500 million people this year and a billion each year thereafter. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals said it’s started the first clinical trial of its COVID-19 antibody drug.

Meanwhile, the European Commission wants to buy up to six COVID-19 vaccine candidates in advance from pharmaceutical firms, as long as they are not produced solely in the U.S. In an effort to be first to produce a vaccine, Russia has employed armed forces, shortened approval times for trials and sped up clinical evaluations. Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, commended the global collaborative effort to find a vaccine, saying he had “never seen it happen this fast.” 

Drinking from the firehose: 

  • U.K.-based online grocery store Ocado has raised £1 billion in equity and debt amid a boost in business during the pandemic. 
  • Tofu sales are soaring, as meat supplies remain low following COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-packing plants across North America. 
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ordering Amazon and EBay to stop selling goods, like disinfectants, that make unfounded claims about COVID-19.
  • Over 100,000 customers enrolled in a Goldman Sachs program offering assistance for people financially affected by COVID-19.
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Around the world: Some cinemas in New Zealand will reopen on Friday after a nearly three-month shutdown. U.S. Democrats and Republicans are divided about whether to extend jobless benefits. New data collected in the U.K. shows Brits spent more time socializing and sleeping and less time travelling in the first month of lockdown. One month after France ended its strict eight-week lockdown, there has been no spike in coronavirus cases. Bahrain found that 44 per cent of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers posed a risk of spreading the virus to others, further countering the World Health Organization’s claim from earlier this week. The Queen participated in her first video conference to discuss the role of carers during the pandemic. The Coachella music festival has been canceled

All aboard: From Japan to Peru, here are 13 virtual train rides you can take. 

* 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. Numbers may also vary based on countries’ individual testing capacity and reporting.

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