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COVID-19 roundup: CEBA expansion rollout delayed

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau rises during a meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. The Canadian Press/Justin Tang
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It’s day 101 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 100,566 as of publication time, up 346 since yesterday—a two per cent increase from the seven-day prior average of 339 new cases. At its peak on May 3, the seven-day average was 1,603 new cases a day. 

The World Health Organization warned the coronavirus had entered “a new and dangerous phase” after 150,000 new cases were reported Thursday—the “most in a single day so far”—almost half of which were in the Americas.  

The main news: Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced via Twitter late last night that the promised expansion of the Canada Emergency Business Account, which provides interest-free, partially forgivable loans of up to $40,000, would not launch today as scheduled. The federal government said on May 19 that the program would be expanded to include owner-operated small businesses with payrolls of less than $20,000 and with non-deferrable expenses, like rent, utilities and property taxes, between $40,000 and $1.5 million. “Work continues around the clock to ensure the program can securely launch across over 230 financial institutions,” Morneau wrote. “We know how important the program is to small businesses & want to launch as quickly as possible.” 

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The delay came as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Biscotti & Cie, a gourmet cafe in Chelsea, Que., to urge small businesses to apply for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Since it launched, the federal government has paid out $13.28 billion to employers through the wage subsidy, which is far below its $73-billion budget. At the cafe, Trudeau also announced that 500 “green jobs” would be created as part of its $9-billion aid package for students.

In the markets: The Dow Jones, TSX and S&P 500 closed down after Apple said it was shuttering some stores, triggering fears of renewed lockdowns in the country. The Nasdaq closed up 0.03 per cent as gains in radio and television stocks offset the Apple drop. The Canadian dollar fell to 73.44 cents U.S. in late afternoon trading. 

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said the government needs to do more to help the economy recover. U.S. corporate borrowing costs dropped to a record low. U.S. crude prices rose above US$40 a barrel on hopes that global demand for fuel will rebound more quickly than previously expected. Foreign investors purchased US$4.1 billion in emerging-market stocks and bonds in May, but are focusing on the least risky assets in a sign that worries about the long-term economic impact of COVID-19 remain high. Aimia rose after announcing it closed a merger with Kognitiv and that Air Canada’s attempt to block the merger had been dismissed by the Quebec Superior Court. Montreal drug developer Repare Therapeutics went public on the Nasdaq and quickly hit a valuation of over US$1 billion. 

“Our bodies process so much context, so much information, in encounters, that meeting on video is being a weird kind of blindfolded. We sense too little and can’t imagine enough. That single deprivation requires a lot of conscious effort.”: Gianpiero Petriglieri, management professor at INSEAD, reflects on why we’re all so tired of video-conferencing. 

Cross-country checkup: Quebec is projecting a $15-billion deficit for the current fiscal year, after forecasting a nearly $3-billion surplus before the pandemic. Finance Minister Eric Girard’s economic update noted that the province spent an extra $3.7 billion on health care because of the pandemic, as well as $1 billion to help workers and $2 billion for companies. The province expects revenues to fall by $8.5 billion for the fiscal, and has earmarked another $4 billion for an anticipated second wave. B.C., Alberta and Quebec saw an average of 2,200 more deaths—related to COVID-19 and other causes—during the pandemic, according to a Statistics Canada report. Ontario, the second-hardest-hit province, declined to provide data for the analysis. B.C. is closing Peace Arch Park near the U.S. border, which has become a popular reunion spot for people who have been isolated. Ontario is replacing its 15-year-old disease-reporting system with a new $20-million system that will help improve contact tracing. Prince Edward County is bracing for an influx of city dwellers looking to escape Toronto and Montreal. 

Back to school: Ontario is considering three possible plans to restart classes, including a full return, an at-home online learning setup or a hybrid of the two. The last option would see 15 students in each classroom, with attendance staggered on different days or weeks. Meanwhile, the U.K. is looking to expand school “bubbles” to ensure all students can return to class in September. New rules will be published within the next two weeks, but schools can begin accessing funds designated to help students catch up on missed learning. 

Bay Street to Main Street: Health experts pushed back on Thursday’s call from 27 leading Canadian CEOs to loosen travel restrictions. “The virus does not care what country you’re from, what time zone you cross, it’s just there as a threat,” said Paul Pottinger, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. The CEO letter, which was sent to Trudeau and signed by the leaders of Rogers, RBC, Scotiabank and WestJet, asked for travel to be permitted to “select” countries, but did not identify them. Pottinger urged Trudeau to follow Health Canada guidelines on safety. 

  • Nationwide retail sales dropped 26.4 per cent in April, worse than the 17.1 per cent April drop in the U.S. Retail e-commerce, however, grew 56 per cent. Overall retail sales jumped 19.1 per cent in May, according to an initial estimate by Statistics Canada. 
  • Textron is cutting up to 1,950 jobs and suspending the production of flight simulators at its Montreal plant. 
  • Cineplex said it won’t make masks mandatory for movie-theatre goers as it seeks to get regulatory approval to reopen its 165 theatres in Canada. 
  • Companies with revenue between $100 million and $500 million can now apply for loans from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) for between $12.5 million and $60 million. BDC will cover 90 per cent of the cost and partnering financial institutions will cover the rest. 
  • The Ontario government cancelled plans to reduce holidays for frontline retail employees, from nine to three, according to the workers’ union. 
  • Oil company Ovinitiv cut its workforce by 25 per cent, laying off 640 people. The cuts are part of a bid to save US$200 million this year amid record-low oil prices. 
  • Marc Faucher is joining ArcTern Ventures as managing partner as the cleantech fund looks to expand to the U.S. and Europe. 
  • Google is launching an accelerator focused on women founders in Canada and the United States. Applications open June 22. 

Trace me on my cellphone: Apple said it did not know the U.K. was working on a “hybrid” version of the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app using technology the company developed with Google. On Thursday, U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government had “agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together.” But Apple said, “It is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven’t spoken to us.” The news comes as Japan released its app, which uses Apple and Google’s technology.

Drinking from the firehose:

  • Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com brought in US$136.51 billion in sales combined during yesterday’s 618 shopping event, higher than last year’s numbers. 
  • China said about 20 per cent of Belt and Road projects aimed to link Asia to Europe and the rest of the world have been “seriously affected” by the pandemic.
  • Florida-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics is trialing a pill to treat patients with less severe cases of COVID-19 and don’t require hospitalization. 
  • U.S. grocery chain Albertsons has begun its IPO roadshow, five years after shelving plans to go public. The company, which has benefitted from the pandemic, is seeking a stock price of US$18 to US$20, which would value the company at around US$10 billion. 

Around the world: The new outbreak in Beijing has made residents anxious. “You think something can’t happen again—and then it does,” said Shi Panyu, a 25-year-old who said he’d been wearing a mask outdoors all year. Retail sales in Australia increased by 16.3 per cent in May—the largest rise in 38 years of records. India’s household-work gender gap fell by roughly one hour in April, as men spent more time on domestic chores than they had last year. An Italian national health institute study of wastewater has found that the coronavirus was present in two of the country’s largest cities in December 2019, more than two months before the first case was detected. The findings suggest the virus appeared in Italy around the same time it was first reported in China. The U.K. government is being accused of underreporting after it was found that more than 1,000 people died every day for 22 consecutive days. A massive decline in remittances has put Yemen on the brink of a major malnutrition crisis.

Researchers at Northwestern University have found a strain of the virus in Chicago not seen anywhere else in the world. The World Bank warned that students around the world risk losing out on US$10 trillion in lifelong earnings because of school closures. A greater number of young people are dying from COVID-19 in emerging economies. Hollywood is invited to a virtual Cannes party, providing they bring “a beach blanket, a glass (or several) of rosé and plenty of ‘joie de vivre.’”

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COVID-19 modelling: When the coronavirus cancelled her first runway show, Anifa Mvuemba held a virtual fashion show for her brand Hanifa, streamed over Instagram Live, in which each outfit appeared in 3D against a black backdrop, as if worn by invisible models.

* 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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