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Canada Says Partial Return to Work by Summer Possible at Best

Justin Trudeau Photographer: David Kawai/Bloomberg


Canada is in first-and-worst phase of coronavirus, says leader | Country has tested more people than the entire U.S., he says

By Natalie Obiko Pearson for Bloomberg – Canada may be able to loosen lockdowns and have some sectors return to work by the summer if the nation abides by the tight restrictions currently in place, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

The country is currently in the “first and worst phase” of the coronavirus, and modeling shows that in a best-case scenario it could emerge relatively quickly if people observe social distancing so as to minimize the burden on the health system, Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa Friday.

“That is the ideal scenario but it only happens if we continue to stay strong for the coming weeks,” he said.

By that point, Canada will have better testing protocols and new technologies to trace outbreaks allowing it to respond to any resurgences more capably, he said.

On Friday, Canada’s national police service said it will begin conducting spot checks to verify that people under mandatory quarantine, including travelers who’ve entered from abroad, are staying in their homes, according to a statement. Under Canada’s Quarantine Act, those who violate such orders can face a maximum fine of C$750,000 ($536,941) and six months imprisonment.

Canada has tested more people than in the U.S. despite having about one-tenth the population and is continuing to ramp up its testing capacity, Trudeau said. In a separate briefing Friday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the nation has tested over 380,000 people and 5% have tested positive.

“The lead that we’ve taken on testing is part of why we are seeing a flatter curve than other places,” Trudeau said in Ottawa. The nation has had over 21,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 500 deaths.

Still, Trudeau tempered expectations: “We will not get back to the normal that we had before at least until we have developed a vaccine for the virus — that is the reality.” A vaccine could take anywhere from 6 months to a year and a half, he said.

Wave of Unemployment

Screen shot of Government of Canada Employment Insurance Website
The government received 5.62 million emergency benefit claims since March 15

Concerns about the economic fallout are surging with the virus causing a wave of unemployment unlike any other in Canada’s history. What’s more, Canadian households were already burdened with debt before the pandemic, leaving them with little cushion to get through a crisis and likely slowing any recovery.

The government received 5.62 million emergency benefit claims since March 15, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said Friday.

Poloz’s Tenure

Mr. Poloz, who turns 65 in October, announced late last year that he wouldn’t seek a second term when his current seven-year mandate ends on June 2.

The Bank of Canada has played a key role during the crisis, including its first-ever, large-scale asset purchase program to ensure the financial system doesn’t freeze up. It lowered interest rate three times last month, bring its policy rate to 0.25%.

There have been calls to extend Governor Stephen Poloz’s term past its expiry on June 2 to underpin market confidence. Trudeau was asked Friday about a report in the Globe and Mail newspaper, citing unidentified sources, saying that Poloz hasn’t yet been asked to stay on.

“The process is ongoing and decisions haven’t been made,” Trudeau said. “A strong Bank of Canada is essential in getting us through this.”

UPDATE: It has been reported in the Canadian media today that Prime Minister Trudeau has opted to replace Bank of Canada Governor Poloz despite COVID-19 economic crisis

The nation’s central bank will release its monetary policy report and announce its next rate decision on April 15.

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