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COVID-19 roundup: Tracking Ottawa’s pandemic payouts

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads into the House of Commons at West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The Canadian Press/Justin Tang
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It’s day 86 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 93,700 as of publication time, up 615 since yesterday—a 20 per cent decrease from the seven-day prior average of new cases. On their respective 86th day, U.S. daily new cases were down seven per cent from the seven-day prior average; the U.K. was down nine per cent in daily new cases from the seven-day prior; and in Italy, new cases were down 50 per cent.*

Money out the door: It’s been 85 days since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Ottawa’s first billion dollars in COVID-19 response measures. At Finance Canada’s last count, the government has budgeted $152.8 billion in direct-support programs for people and firms alone, with another $86 billion in business-credit support. 

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Over the last two months, The Logic has been tracking the dollars Ottawa has actually paid out from three of its larger pandemic-relief measures: the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), a $2,000 monthly direct payment to individuals; the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, worth up to $847 per employee, per week for firms whose revenues have dropped; and the Canada Emergency Business Account, which funds partially forgivable, financial institution-issued loans of up to $40,000.  

Here’s how much each program has disbursed and how their budgets have changed since April 6, when applications for the CERB opened.

In the markets: Three of the four major North American indices closed down slightly Thursday, pulled down by major tech stocks and the latest round of negative economic indicators. Facebook, Netflix and Slack all dropped as investors bet on sectors like materials and industrials, which stand to benefit from the widespread reopening of the economy. Another 1.9 million people filed unemployment claims in the U.S. last week, bringing the pandemic total to 42.6 million, but marking the ninth straight weekly decline. The U.S. trade deficit grew 16.7 per cent month over month in April to US$49.41 billion, due to a drop in both imports and exports. The overall indices’ losses were marginal, with the Nasdaq losing the most at 0.69 per cent, but they reverse this week’s general trend of day-over-day increases. The Dow Jones rose 0.05 per cent at close, in part since it’s less tech-heavy. 

The European Central Bank is increasing its bond-purchasing program by €600 billion, more than expected by some analysts, bringing the total value to €1.35 trillion. The euro climbed 0.3 per cent against the U.S. dollar on the news, its highest level since mid-March. The Canadian dollar fell against the greenback Thursday, reaching 73.99 cents U.S. in late afternoon trading. Thirty per cent of Canadians who had lost their jobs or work hours during the pandemic said they now had more work, according to a poll taken by Bloomberg News at the end of May. Statistics Canada is releasing official data on employment Friday. 

“It makes a difference that the chancellor is a scientist and her chief of staff a doctor. That has shaped our response to this pandemic:” Reinhard Busse, head of the department of health-care management at Berlin’s Technical University, believes Germany had a successful COVID-19 mitigation strategy because the government deferred to experts and local decision-makers, and invested in health care before the pandemic started. 

Cross-country checkup: The Ontario government appointed former federal health minister Jane Philpott to advise the government on its health data platform, which aims to gather and host information on COVID-19 in a bid to stop the spread of the virus. The platform is expected to launch in July. Seniors eligible for the Old Age Security pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement will receive a one-time payment of $900 ($1,500 for senior couples) to help them through the pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 has slowed countrywide over the past two weeks, with 90 per cent of cases concentrated in Quebec and Ontario. 

Bay Street to Main Street: The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is reportedly planning to ban homebuyers from borrowing money for down payments and raising the credit score needed to get insurance from 600 to 680. The agency is also lowering the maximum permissible debt-service ratio, making it harder for buyers to take on excess debt to fuel property purchases. Last month, Scotiabank banned buyers from using borrowed money to purchase rental properties, and CMHC CEO Evan Siddal warned that housing prices nationwide could drop as much as 18 per cent this year. At the time, Siddal also warned that investors making five per cent down payments could end up owing more than their homes were worth. However, the CMHC is reportedly not changing the five per cent minimum down payment requirement. 

  • Quebec City-based artificial intelligence firm Coveo redesigned the search function for Xero, an accounting software firm with a market cap of $11.9 billion. 
  • Canaccord Genuity Group increased its profits in the quarter ended March 31, with U.S. and European divisions offsetting sharp losses in Canada. 
  • Energy loans at the Big Six banks increased 23 per cent quarter over quarter to 71.6 billion in the most recent quarter. 
  • Labour Minister Filomena Tassi spoke with Shopify about its policy of letting most staff work from home permanently. “Great to see a leading Canadian company handling this challenging moment with innovation and a focus on workers’ well-being,” tweeted Tassi. 
  • Canada’s services imports dropped 30.7 per cent between April and March, reaching $7.8 billion, the lowest point since 2009. Services exports dropped 20.5 per cent to $8.1 billion, the lowest point since 2013. 
  • The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada was hit by a cyberattack, affecting the personal information of 329,000 people, including names, emails, addresses and employer names. The association said everyone affected has been notified, and that it’s since increased its security measures. 

Supercluster money for COVID-19: The Digital Technology Supercluster unveiled eight new projects under its $60-million COVID-19 stream on Thursday, including platforms for virtual mental health, addiction treatment and telework for youth and health-care workers. The Vancouver-based non-profit has now allocated half the pandemic program funding, after Ottawa re-focused the five organizations in its flagship innovation initiative on antiviral solutions in March. 

The rent is due: A survey of 427 small businesses and 92 landlords in Toronto, Ottawa and Guelph, Ont. found that many landlords were not applying for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program. The survey, conducted by the Broadview-Danforth Business Improvement Area and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, found that 61 per cent of businesses who qualified for CECRA said their landlord had not applied. Of the landlords surveyed, 95 per cent said they had not received June’s rents; 72 per cent of businesses surveyed said they could not make June rent. 

In the lab: The European Union is preparing to use an emergency €2.4-billion fund to make advance purchases of potential COVID-19 vaccines. Gavi, a Gates Foundation-backed global vaccine alliance that aims to increase vaccination access, raised US$8.8 billion. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeking emergency-use authorization for a test to detect and differentiate flu from COVID-19, while also boosting supplies of the flu vaccine. Swedish scientists have identified antibodies in Tyson, a 12-year-old alpaca in Germany who was immunized with coronavirus proteins; they hope his antibodies can be used to make a treatment or a vaccine. 

Trace me on my cellphone: The federal government has ruled out endorsing a contact-tracing smartphone app developed by Montreal’s Mila Institute. Federal and provincial governments were wary of the amount of personal information that users had to input into AI-powered app, a source with knowledge of the matter told The Logic. The decision paves the way for the government to endorse an app based on the Google and Apple architecture, like the one under development by Shopify.

European countries are quickly adopting contact-tracing apps as they prepare to reopen. Germany’s Covid-Warn-App is set for release in mid-June. Austria’s Stopp Corona, Europe’s first Bluetooth app, is upgrading to Google and Apple’s technology. Italy’s contact-tracing app, Immuni, has been downloaded by one million people since launching in four regions on Tuesday. France’s StopCovid app, also released Tuesday, has been downloaded by 600,000 people as of Wednesday. Meanwhile, the U.K’s app has likely been delayed until June 15 or July as it awaits a second version to be trialled in the Isle of Wight. Canadian researchers are working on the CanShake, an app that requires users to shake their phones at each other to share contact information, as a potential contact-tracing technology. The University of Kansas will mandate students and staff to download an app that will give them access to buildings if they have no COVID-19 symptoms; it is believed to be the first of its kind to be adopted by a U.S. academic institution.

Drinking from the firehose: 

  • Chapter 11 commercial bankruptcy filings in the U.S. jumped 48 per cent in May from a year earlier. From April to May, filings increased 28 per cent. 
  • EBay shares hit a record high on Thursday after the firm raised its revenue and profit forecasts for the quarter as more consumers shop online during the pandemic. 
  • FedEx is raising its delivery fees, following UPS, as residential shipping volumes during the pandemic exceed the traditional peak-season holiday rush. 
  • Amazon leased 12 Boeing 767-300 converted cargo aircrafts, boosting its fleet to more than 80 aircrafts as demand for rapid delivery increases. 
  • A group of Amazon warehouse workers in New York have sued the company for allegedly failing to follow local public health guidance on COVID-19. 
  • Zoom Video Communications is reportedly in advanced talks with Google to use its security service. 

Around the world: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said it may be necessary to stage a “simplified” Olympics next year, which may include reduced participants and spectators. Germany has unveiled a €130-billion stimulus package; part of the package includes boosting incentives for electric vehicles. The U.K.’s furlough scheme will cost an estimated 30 per cent less than expected, as employers have mainly been using it for part-time and low-paid workers. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill to loosen the rules around small-business relief loans; businesses now have 24 weeks to use their loans instead of eight weeks. The NBA is planning to resume games with 22 of its 30 teams.

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How to hug during a pandemic: Wear a mask; be outdoors; don’t talk, cough or cry; point your faces away from each other; and do it quickly. Here are the dos and don’ts of hugging, from experts.

* 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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