COVID-19 roundup: Who’s in your bubble, Ontario?

Ontario Premier Doug Ford answers questions as Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, left, listen in during a news conference at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto in March 2020. The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn

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It’s day 94 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 97,895 as of publication time, up 365 since yesterday—a 28 per cent decrease from the seven-day prior average of new cases.*

Vietnam has recorded zero COVID-19 deaths and expects the economy to grow by five per cent this year.

A very select social network: Ontario residents can now select up to nine other people for their personal COVID-19 bubbles, and needn’t maintain physical distance within that exclusive group. Hairdressers and barbershops, restaurant patios and mall stores can now open across most of the province, although not the GTA. Alberta also entered its second phase on Friday, which includes gyms and movie theatres. Edmonton’s funicular will restart on Monday.

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In the markets: All major North American indices closed up over one per cent, reversing some of the losses from Thursday’s drop, the largest single-day decrease since March. The Dow Jones fared the best, rising over 800 points initially before finishing the day up 477 points. 

The early-morning rise followed some positive new economic data. U.S. consumer sentiment rose to 78.9 in the two weeks ending June 10, up from 72.3 for the previous four weeks, and over two-thirds of economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expect the economic recovery to start in the third quarter. 

All indices fell after Texas and Florida, which are trying to reopen their economies quickly, reported their highest-ever daily totals of new virus infections. Oil prices also contributed to the drop, with U.S. crude futures hitting their first weekly decline in seven weeks. In addition, the International Monetary Fund is warning that its June economic projections will be worse than April’s, when the organization warned the COVID-19 recession would be the worst in nearly a century. The Canadian dollar rose 0.2 per cent, reaching 73.51 cents in late afternoon trading. 

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is under pressure from opposition politicians over a US$94-billion emergency fund he is looking to deploy without parliamentary approval. The U.K. economy shrunk 20.4 per cent in April, wiping out about 18 years of growth in two months. Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said he’s “ready to take action” to help the U.K. economy. 

“There will be a whole new science of resilience. We could learn how to help people become more resilient before these things happen:” COVID-19 has set the stage for scientists like psychiatrist Dennis Charney of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York to embark on the largest-ever psychological study of how humans deal with adversity.

Cross-country checkup: Ottawa will require temperature checks for air passengers, starting with travellers flying into Canada before extending the protocol to travellers leaving Canada and those travelling within the country. The federal government is extending military aid in long-term care facilities in Ontario and Quebec to June 26. Alberta has lifted its capacity limits on restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes, though still requires patrons to maintain physical distance. 

Bay Street to Main Street: Sixty-four per cent of Canadian tech leaders said it’s been “surprisingly easy” to have most of their staff work from home, according to a survey conducted by software firm Citrix. Thirty-six per cent said leadership wanting staff to be in the office at all times held back the digital transformation of their companies and 61 per cent said they’re accelerating cloud investments due to the pandemic. A number of Canadian tech companies, including Shopify and Open Text, have moved to permanent work from home arrangements for at least some staff. Another recent survey, by Owl Labs, found that 56 per cent of Canadians want to work remotely post-pandemic at least several times a week. Twelve per cent said they don’t want to work from home again. 

  • Loblaws and Metro are ending pay premiums for frontline workers on June 13. Walmart ended its wage bonuses at the end of May. The United Food and Commercial Workers Canada is criticizing the cuts. 
  • Retail sales nationwide dropped 10.9 per cent in March, down to $43.4 billion. Motor vehicles, clothing and footwear were all hard hit while food and beverages sales increased. 
  • Roots sales dropped by about half year-over-year in the first quarter as online sales failed to make up for the typical traffic coming through shuttered stores. 
  • PACE Credit Union is investigating a subsidiary that sold investment products that lost up to 86 per cent of their value during the pandemic. “I have enough curiosity and enough concern that I think an independent review is warranted,” said CEO Barbara Dirks, who was most recently head of Silicon Valley Bank Canada. 
  • The RCMP and several securities regulators are investigating an apparent “pump and dump” stock-promotion mail campaign. 

In the lab: Fearing that U.S. President Donald Trump may want to rush a vaccine to market before it is ready, experts are seeking a guarantee from the Food and Drug Administration that it won’t authorize a vaccine until it has been tested on 30,000 people. Johnson & Johnson is aiming for a 70 per cent success rate in its clinical trials. The efforts to find a vaccine become more complicated every day, creating previously unthought-of partnerships (like China and Brazil) and reviving decades-old war-zone strategies.

Trace me on my cellphone: NDP MP Charlie Angus is calling for the federal government to ensure any contact tracing app it backs adheres to the privacy commissioner’s guidelines, which include using de-identified data where possible and only for public health purposes, as well as destroying it after the pandemic ends. “We have seen in other jurisdictions that the merits of tracing technology have been hugely oversold by the giants of Silicon Valley while in reality offering up meager results,” he wrote in a letter to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains. 

Meanwhile, Japan is looking to release its own contact tracing app using Apple and Google’s technology next week. Italy’s app has seen 2.2 million downloads in 10 days. The very slow uptick in these apps has concerned developers who were hoping this would open the floodgates to such technology. 

Drinking from the firehose: 

  • U.S. insurers claim they aren’t required to compensate businesses for income lost and expenses owed due to pandemic-related closures. Industry wide, insurers would owe an estimated US$255 billion to US$431 billion a month, which would make it insolvent. 
  • Twitter removed more than 170,000 accounts linked to a Beijing-backed effort to spread disinformation about issues including China’s COVID-19 response and protests in Hong Kong. 
  • Global energy storage firm NEC Energy Solutions is winding down its business after failing to find a suitable buyer amid the pandemic. 
  • Hertz is looking to sell up to US$1 billion in stock, an unusual move for a company going through bankruptcy proceedings. 
  • Some of the largest philanthropic organizations in the U.S. are committing US$1.7 billion to nonprofits impacted by COVID-19. The initiative involves raising US$1 billion in social bonds to fund projects that will make a positive impact on society. 

Around the world: Australia’s top doctor said the country had, in effect, “eliminated” coronavirus, as the prime minister announced plans to allow large outdoor venues to reopen from July. Doctors and hospital executives at five of the 15 New Delhi hospitals are accusing the regional government of under-reporting coronavirus deaths; India overtook Britain with the fourth-highest number of cases worldwide. Germany will lift border checks on Monday night. French president Emmanuel Macron will visit London next week, his first trip abroad since the coronavirus crisis. U.K. health secretary Matt Hancoch is being sued by the daughter of a man who died from COVID-19 in a care home, alleging a “litany of failures.” European Union leaders are “entrenched” in disagreements about the bloc’s recovery package.

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“I remember everything:” Singer-songwriter John Prine’s label has released the last song he recorded before his April 7 death from COVID-19; you can listen here

* 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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