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COVID-19 roundup: Northern exposure notification

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Wednesday June 17, 2020. The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld
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It’s been 100 days since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases has now surpassed one-hundred thousand, sitting at 100,146 as of publication time, up 293 since yesterday—a 16 per cent decrease from the seven-day prior average of 348 new cases. At its peak on May 3, the seven-day average was 1,603 new cases a day. 

Today marks 100 days since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11. Since then, over 8.4 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and over 450,000 people have died from the virus. The good news: the virus is not mutating.

Ottawa’s in the app game: The federal government is launching an exposure-notification app to aid in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. A collaboration between the Canadian Digital Service and the Ontario Digital Service—the respective in-house digital development wings of the federal and Ontario governments—with assists from Shopify and BlackBerry, the app will be available for download after the Canada Day holiday. It uses the Bluetooth-based, decentralized Google and Apple API to alert a smartphone user if they’ve been in close proximity to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Use of the app will not be mandatory, and neither government made public a hard target for what percentage of the population they hope will use it. “If we can talk about a 50 per cent uptake, for example, or more, then it becomes extraordinarily useful,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during his daily briefing to reporters in Ottawa Thursday. The news comes two weeks after the federal government declined to endorse an AI-based contact tracing app developed by Montreal’s Mila Institute. As The Logic first reported, federal officials were concerned with the amount of data Mila’s app required from its users.

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The Canadian announcement also comes on the same day Britain’s National Health Service ditched its current test-and-trace app, one similar to the one Mila was developing, for a new approach to be built on the Apple-Google API.

In the markets: The TSX closed up 0.33  per cent Thursday, buoyed by the energy and financial sectors. The Dow Jones  fell slightly after over a dozen states reported a higher pace of confirmed cases in the past week and tensions with the EU over a digital sales tax triggered concerns about a potential trade war. 

The Canadian dollar fell to 73.45 cents U.S. in late afternoon trading after wholesale trade dropped 21.6 per cent between March and April. Bank of Canada deputy governor Lawrence Schembri predicted a two-phase recovery for the economy, with “reopening” followed by a more unpredictable “recuperation.” Americans have skipped payments on over 100 million loans since the pandemic started, in a sign of how hard hit individual finances are in the nation. Meanwhile, two former Federal Reserve economists want easier terms for loans to small- and mid-sized businesses. OPEC+ remain undecided on whether to extend oil production cuts, which have pushed prices higher, into August. Argentina debt restructuring talks are close to collapsing as both sides dig in. 

Over 1.5 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, above the 1.3 million economists expected. Over 20 million people in the U.S. are currently receiving unemployment benefits. Canada added 208,400 jobs in May, according to payroll firm ADP. That’s up from the 2.4 million lost in April. 

As much as US$16 trillion in global wealth could be wiped out this year, well above the US$10 trillion lost in the 2008 recession, according to a study by Boston Consulting Group. The Bank of England increased its bond buying by £100 billion. Banks borrowed a record £1.3 trillion from after the European Central Bank offered negative interest rates, the first major central bank to do so. 

“If we lived under water in isolation or in our small groups, and we’re down there for extended periods of time, we wouldn’t have to worry about the coronavirus”: Like Sebastian from Little Mermaid, seasteaders like Adam Jewell, co-host of the Colonize the Ocean podcast, believe pandemic life will be better under the sea. 

Cross-country checkup: Nova Scotians can now gather in groups of 10 without physical distancing. While they don’t necessarily have to socialize exclusively with the same 10 people, Premier Stephen McNeil recommended it. McNeil also said he was discussing forming a tourism bubble with the other Atlantic Canada premiers to allow travel between the provinces. Some provinces are at odds with the federal government over its plan to focus its post-COVID-19 infrastructure spending on “green” projects and those meant to support public health efforts. “What’s the point of this, aside from having a lovely public relations campaign?” said one provincial official. Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said Canada’s migrant workers’ program is “in need of an overhaul” after two Mexican workers died of COVID-19 on a farm in Ontario. 

Canada remains largely frozen: Despite reopening orders, real-time economic data shows vehicle traffic, transit usage and restaurant reservations remain near record lows. However, an uneven recovery appears to be underway, with some cities restarting much faster than others, according to The Logic’s analysis of real-time economic data.  

Bay Street to Main Street: The CEOs of many of Canada’s largest companies are urging the federal government to lift safety restrictions on air travel to make it easier for people to come into the country. The CEOs of RBC, Scotiabank, Enbridge, WestJet, Rogers and Canadian National Railway are among 27 signatories to a letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “We are now entering a new phase…. This includes prudently and thoughtfully opening aviation and lifting restrictions to safely resume travel throughout all provinces of Canada, as well as from select countries,” reads the letter. The CEOs’ push follows comments from Air Canada chief executive Calin Rovinescu, who called Canada’s restrictions “disproportionate” last week. 

  • Enbridge is cutting non-union employees salaries and offering early retirement and other forms of leave to about 800 staff. 
  • The number of new leases signed in Toronto in June is down 27 per cent year over year as rents drop amid COVID-19. 
  • Empire, the parent company of Sobeys and Safeway, raised its quarterly dividend after cutting pay for frontline grocery store workers. 

In the lab: Johnson & Johnson said it is in talks with multiple governments and global organizations about its potential COVID-19 vaccine; the news comes after Reuters reported that the firm was discussing a potential supply deal with the European Union. Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged African countries would be “among the first” to benefit from a Chinese-developed vaccine. The World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan hopes hundreds of millions of vaccine doses can be produced this year, and two billion doses by the end of 2021. Volunteers are doing their part of the process, registering for clinical trials that would see them be infected with the virus in the thousands. Said one volunteer, “It’s the most important thing I could do in this moment.”

Drinking from the firehose: 

  • COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on Black business owners in the U.S., an analysis of government data shows. While 17 per cent of white small-business owners reported they weren’t working in April, 40 per cent of Black small-business owners said the same. 
  • Chinese e-retailers saw a boom in sales in the 618 shopping festival, the first big shopping event since the pandemic. JD.com had done about US$33.8 billion in sales by early afternoon on Thursday, more than its total during the event last year. And Alibaba reported 100 per cent increase in transactions in the first hour of business on its e-commerce platform Tmall. 
  • Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta is a newly minted billionaire, thanks to the spike in users of the grocery-delivery app during the pandemic.
  • DoorDash closed a US$400-million funding round—new equity it hadn’t planned to raise before the pandemic—bringing its valuation to US$16 billion. 
  • U.S. lawmakers are pushing for a US$120-billion aid package in a bid to prevent further job losses and closures. 
  • Trading of Hertz shares was halted after the bankrupt car-rental company walked back plans to issue US$500 million in new equity. The stock has been popular with small investors using trading platforms like Robinhood.

Around the world: The recent spread of the virus in Beijing may have begun a month earlier, possibly linked to asymptomatic infections. The city has now ordered hotels and restaurants in high-risk areas to shut down—a partial lockdown that experts are deeming the new normal globally. French President Emmanuel Macron is in London today for one of the first face-to-face—but physically distanced—diplomatic meetings in the age of the coronavirus. Macron forewent a handshake for a bow; Boris Johnson responded with what Reuters called “a slightly awkward thumbs-up.” Britain is set to release a back-to-school plan after 1,600 pediatricians urged the government to reopen schools or risk “scarring the life chances” of a generation. The plan will include funding for schools to hire private tutors to facilitate a “year-long national tutoring program” to help students “catch up on lost learning.” In the U.S., states and local authorities have been left to fend for themselves with little direction from the White House on coronavirus measures.

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The world has only six months to prevent a post-lockdown “carbon rebound” that would overwhelm efforts to prevent climate catastrophe, the International Energy Agency said, as it released a US$3-trillion roadmap for a green pandemic recovery. (Here is a database of government stimulus packages that include emissions-reduction measures.) According to Brookings Institution, the pandemic will lead to “a large, lasting baby bust.”

How to make butter: Buy a churn and four 16-ounce cartons of heavy cream to make two batches. Enjoy with quarantine bread.

* 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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