The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

COVID-19 roundup: Because ‘Mom and Dad are stretched, too’

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It’s day 43 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 39,807 as of publication time, up 1,386 since yesterday, a six per cent decrease in daily new cases from the three-day prior average. On their respective 43rd day, U.S. daily new cases were up 10 per cent from the three-day prior average; the U.K. was down three per cent in daily new cases from the three-day prior; and in Italy, new cases were down one per cent.* 

Autopsies have revealed that the first known COVID-19 death in the U.S. occurred on February 6 in California, three weeks before the first U.S. death was reported in Washington state.

Student aid: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced almost $9 billion in new financial support for post-secondary students. The federal government has faced pressure to help young people who have been shut out of campus and summer jobs alike. A coalition of dozens of student organizations said over two million students were already in a “dire financial situation” before the COVID-19 pandemic started, due to skyrocketing tuition fees and costs of living. Statistics Canada’s March labour-force survey also showed that young Canadians were hardest hit by layoffs due to the pandemic: employment levels for those aged 15 to 24 fell by 15.4 per cent, the lowest point since 1976. Employment among young Canadians fell more sharply among students. On Wednesday, Trudeau said the government would expand the Canada Summer Jobs program so employers can receive up to 100 per cent of the minimum hourly wage for each employee and have the option of hiring youth part time.

The new Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) will provide $1,250 a month for students and recent graduates from May to August. A new Canada Student Service Grant will provide up to $5,000 for students’ fall education if they do volunteer work this summer to help in the fight against COVID-19. Ottawa will also broaden the eligibility for student loans by removing the expected student’s and spouse’s contributions in 2020–2021. The government has already enforced a six-month moratorium on the repayment of Canadian student loans.

Federal graduate research scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships that are expiring will be extended, with the government allocating $291.6 million to support them as well as existing federal research grants. The government will also spend $75.2 million to support Indigenous post-secondary students.

“You might normally have turned to your parents for help, but right now, Mom and Dad are stretched, too,” Trudeau said

In the markets: Stock markets bounced back from yesterday’s dip, with the TSX, S&P, Dow Jones and Nasdaq all up over 1.9 per cent. The dollar was also up, hitting 70 cents U.S. in late afternoon trading. The uptick was partially driven by a 19 per cent jump in the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate. The Canadian Crude Index was up 31 per cent in late afternoon trading, although it’s still down more than two-thirds from its March drop. Low oil prices are likely to make Canadian inflation hit zero per cent in the second quarter, according to the Bank of Canada. The inflation rate already dropped to 0.9 per cent in March, an almost five-year low. Chinese economic statistics are similarly trending down, with bad loans at 2.04 per cent in the first quarter, up 0.06 percentage points from December 2019. 

“Too late, many executives and owners have realised that by pursuing the holy grail of ever greater efficiency, they sacrificed robustness, resilience and effectiveness. In many cases, they will turn out to have sacrificed the business itself”: The editorial board of the Financial Times offered blunt advice to companies around the world, saying they need to strengthen cash reserves, boost supply chains. In the board’s opinion, those with “a safety net of loyal and adaptable full-time workers are more likely to pull through—and will be better prepared to ride out future disruption.”

OneEleven shutting down: The tech hub will cease operations at the end of the month, in a decision it attributed to financial pressures and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company ran a downtown Toronto location including startup workspace and private offices for larger firms, and provided members with advice, events and access to facilities including a podcast studio, parenting and prayer rooms. After the outbreak hit, OneEleven allowed tenants to defer rent for April and May and moved programming online. But in a Wednesday note, executive director Siri Agrell and chair and ex-CEO Dean Hopkins said the for-profit firm’s “model was existentially threatened” by the loss of membership and partnership fees and questions about safe use of its dense office space once the outbreak subsides. As The Logic previously reported, OneEleven was an investment vehicle of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System’s (OMERS) growth equity division, and had a lease on the Toronto space with OMERS subsidiary Oxford Properties until 2026. Current occupants can stay if they reach “new contractual agreements” with the landlord for the period following May 31, Agrell and Hopkins wrote. Last year, OneEleven made several changes to prioritize its Toronto location, including closing its Ottawa facility and pausing an expansion in London and eliminating three executive roles; Hopkins, who was hired to lead a global expansion, left to take a role at Oxford in July 2019. Members expressed sadness about the news. “I am super disappointed,” said Boast Capital CEO Lloyed Lobo. His firm plans to stay in OneEleven’s space, but Lobo said he was going to miss the support programs as well as the peer and mentor groups that helped his firm grow. “Siri and the OneEleven team were the soul.… It’s just a space without them.” The location housed 55 firms before the pandemic. 

Trace me on my cellphone: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a coronavirus “tracing army” spearheaded by Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor and U.S. presidential candidate. Bloomberg has volunteered to design the program and the training and will donate US$10 million, the governor said. The tracing program—which Cuomo has called a key component to the “phased reopening of the economy”—will be coordinated with Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg’s alma mater where his name is attached to the college’s school of public health, and Vital Strategies, a public health organization.

Meanwhile, Singapore is learning hard lessons about the effectiveness of contact tracing. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged everyone to download the app, saying that was the only way for the technology to work effectively. Amid privacy concerns, Israel suspended police use of cellphone data to enforce quarantine measures. Police had conducted around 500 random cellphone location checks a day based on a list of 13,500 people from the health ministry, which believes that 15 per cent violate quarantine. 

Inside tech’s COVID-19 lobbying: Several dozen medical technology companies are lobbying governments across Canada seeking contracts to help with COVID-19. From faster testing kits to ultraviolet disinfection towers and telemedicine, some firms are already securing contracts while many others are hopeful they’ll receive one soon. Microbix Biosystems, which makes a medical device that ensures the accuracy of COVID-19 tests, is one of the early winners in the flurry of lobbying activity. Nationwide, there are 657 organizations that have registered to lobby on some aspect of the pandemic in recent weeks. Canada’s isn’t the only country that’s seen an influx of tech lobbying. In the U.S., Facebook and Amazon have both increased their lobbying in the first quarter. 

Cross-country checkup: House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota said Parliament won’t adopt virtual voting any time soon, citing inadequate technology, while other MPs expressed concern over poor internet access in rural areas. Two cargo planes—one chartered by the federal government and another by an undisclosed province—meant to bring back medical supplies from China returned to Canada empty, due to traffic congestion at the Shanghai airport and restrictions on how long planes can stay grounded at the site. The Ontario government plans to test all residents and staff of long-term care facilities for COVID-19, regardless of whether they have symptoms. The province has directed all public health units to begin testing immediately, prioritizing homes experiencing outbreaks. Premier Doug Ford has asked for help from the military for staffing and medical care at the hardest-hit facilities. Quebec has likewise requested 1,000 Armed Forces members to help fill staff shortages at seniors homes grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks. Nova Scotia reported two new deaths from the virus on Wednesday, both residents at a long-term care facility in Halifax; eight of province’s 12 deaths from the virus have been at the facility. Despite the relatively few cases, health officials in Manitoba warned against easing physical distancing. Toronto’s public health unit plans to start collecting data on the race and income of COVID-19 patients to help assess socioeconomic disparities related to the spread of the virus. B.C.’s public health officer is considering ways to safely allow kids in the province to play in sports leagues this summer.

Bay Street to Main Street: COVID-19 is accelerating Canada’s shift to online banking, with technology now accounting for the second-largest and fastest-growing expense among the Big Six. Existing technology, including cheque-image capture and e-transfers, are helping the banks serve customers online during the pandemic. BMO, for example, has seen its weekly rate of customers signing up for online banking jump by as much as 300 per cent.

  • The Alberta Investment Management Corporation lost over $4 billion on a bet that stock prices wouldn’t swing wildly.
  • Ninety per cent of Canadian entrepreneurs are feeling the negative impact of COVID-19, according to a new survey by the Business Development Bank of Canada. 
  • FreshBooks, a Toronto-based cloud accounting firm, has laid off 38 staff, a workforce reduction of nine per cent. 
  • Rogers’s revenue slumped five per cent as it withdrew its 2020 outlook.
  • Bell and TekSavvy customers are objecting to price increases.
  • Tim Hortons employees are now required to wear masks.
  • Canadian restaurants are struggling to make money due to high fees from delivery apps.
  • Some analysts are questioning Shopify’s latest stock rise, which briefly made the firm the second-most valuable in the country.
  • Canadian Pacific Railway has slashed its outlook and is expecting adjusted profit to be flat compared with 2019.
  • Metro reported an estimated $125-million sales increase in just the first two weeks of March.
  • Some small businesses are opting to shut down permanently instead of waiting for financial relief.
  • The Investments Fund Institute of Canada said fund holdings dropped about 10 per cent in March compared with a month earlier.

Crowdsourcing the crisis: Wellness Together Canada is offering free access to mental health support, including counselling services., an online platform that sells wine by the case, is providing free delivery in Ontario.

Drinking from the firehose: In their first earnings reports since the pandemic, Snap and Netflix affirmed the benefits of physical distancing on their businesses. Snap, the social messaging and entertainment app, saw its daily active users grow by 11 million this quarter and 20 per cent year over year. Communications between friends increased more than 30 per cent in the last week of March compared to the last week of January. Despite a general decrease in online advertising, Snap’s revenues were up 44 per cent in the quarter. Meanwhile, Netflix added 15.8 million new paying subscribers during the quarter, compared to the seven million new customers it projected. Revenues grew slightly more than analysts expected, while the halt in filming and production has freed up some cash for the streaming giant. On Wednesday, the firm announced plans to raise US$1 billion to fund original content. 

  • AT&T missed Wall Street’s revenue expectations for its first quarter as the pandemic took a toll on wireless equipment and ad sales.
  • Chamath Palihapitiya, chair of Virgin Galactic Holdings, is reportedly trying to raise US$720 million to take a blank-check company public, defying the trend of halting IPOs. 
  • After vowing to prioritize climate-change issues, BlackRock says it may loosen sustainability requirements as its portfolio companies grapple with the new crisis of COVID-19. 
  • Expedia is reportedly in advanced talks to sell a stake of its business to private equity firms Silver Lake and Apollo Global Management. The deal would give the investors representation on the online-booking company’s board. 
  • Private equity firm Sycamore Partners is trying to terminate its US$525-million plan to take over Victoria’s Secret, a deal reached weeks before the pandemic. 
  • Google said it has detected 18 million malware and phishing Gmail messages per day related to the coronavirus outbreak, including some sent by state-backed hackers.
  • Zoom Video Communications is upgrading its encryption features, after concerns mounted around privacy on the video-calling platform amid a surge of users. 
  • Mattress company Casper has laid off 78 staff, as the firm plans to wind down its European operations; its CFO and COO will also leave May 15.
  • Patreon has laid off 30 employees, about 13 per cent of its staff, as some patrons of the crowdfunding platform delete their subscriptions, citing COVID-19. 

The grand reopening: The bipartisan U.S. National Governors Association released a plan Wednesday to reopen the economy. The 38-page plan says governors should continue to request that the federal government “rapidly build testing capacity and coordinate distribution to states.” Iraq has begun easing its month-long restrictions by allowing some shops and markets to reopen, while keeping overnight and weekend curfews in place and schools and universities closed. Spain may begin phasing out its lockdown in the second half of May; children in the country will be allowed to take walks outside for the first time in nearly six weeks starting Sunday. Meanwhile, around 73,000 South African troops have been put on standby amid increased lockdown tensions.

Around the world: Roughly 18 million European workers have been laid off over the last month, with almost half of French private-sector workers furloughed and a third of all Irish workers without jobs. European governments have spent heavily to keep workers on paid leave, covering large portions of their salaries; those programs are expected to reach €135 billion in Germany, France and Spain alone. To help cover the cost, European Union leaders are to meet via teleconference on Thursday to consider a divisive loan package for member governments that could be worth up to €1.5 trillion. 

U.S. President Donald Trump wants Harvard University to pay back the US$8.6 million in federal relief money it was granted last week; he will also ask big companies to return their stimulus money. Missouri is suing China over the coronavirus, alleging that the country is “responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians.” Beijing dismissed the suit as “nothing short of absurdity.” Chinese doctors in Wuhan, China, where the virus first emerged in December 2019, reported a growing number of cases in which people who have recovered from the virus still test positive without showing symptoms. Germany has approved its first human trials for a vaccine. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has set up a working group to establish insurance coverage for one-off events like pandemics. Britain’s first day of parliament-by-Zoom came off largely without glitches. Cynthia Viteri, the mayor of Guayaquil, Ecuador—Latin America’s hardest-hit city—says the virus’s impact has been akin to “as if we were attacked from the air like in Hiroshima.” She offered “painful” advice to countries around the world, especially those that haven’t locked down: “Don’t run from the disease; pursue it, knock on doors and save people before [the virus] gets in their lungs.” A refugee camp in Lebanon has recorded its first coronavirus case.

“Just good, clean, corny jokes”: The city of Juneau, Alaska set up a hotline for residents. Three volunteers—one retired man and two high school girls—record a new joke by 10 a.m. every day. However, the system crashed after an “overwhelming” response.

* 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 three-day prior average. Numbers may also vary based on countries’ individual testing capacity and reporting.


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