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Fear of COVID-19 is growing, suggests new poll of Canadians

LAURA OSMAN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 7th, 2020

A new poll suggests a growing number of Canadians are frightened of the prospect of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Sixty-four per cent of Canadians said they were personally afraid of becoming ill with COVID-19, compared to 57 per cent two weeks ago.

They appear even more concerned for their loved ones, with 76 per cent of respondents saying they were afraid someone in their immediate family would become infected.

Those fears are a little less pronounced in Quebec, despite being the province with the highest number of cases — 57 per cent responded they were afraid for themselves and 69 per cent said they were afraid for family.

The poll, conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies between April 3 and 5, surveyed 1,512 adult Canadians and 1,000 adult Americans randomly recruited from its online panel.

Leger’s internet-based survey cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples.

The poll suggests that as more people feel alarmed about the virus, the issue is also becoming more personal.

While no one polled lived with someone who had contracted the virus, 11 per cent said they had a friend, family member or acquaintance who received a COVID-19 diagnosis — up from four per cent two weeks ago.

Meanwhile the vast majority, 94 per cent, said they have not personally experienced any symptoms, which the poll listed as a cough, sore throat, fever or difficulty breathing.

Their trepidation doesn’t stop at their family’s health.

Ninety-three per cent of Canadian respondents also considered COVID-19 a threat to the country’s economy.

Seventy-nine per cent said it is a threat to the health of the Canadian population as a whole, with the same number saying it threatens day-to-day life in their community. Just over half of respondents deemed the pandemic a threat to their personal finances.

Still, the poll suggests Canadians are largely and increasingly satisfied with the measures being taken by governments to fight the disease.

That’s particularly true at the provincial level, with 82 per cent approval. The federal government has seen an increase in approval, with 72 per cent satisfied, up from 65 per cent two weeks ago.

Fewer Canadians now believe that the pandemic has been blown out of proportion, with 83 believing COVID-19 is a real threat compared to 77 per cent two weeks ago.

The last few weeks have seen serious moves by all levels of government to bring in stringent physical distancing measures to limit the spread of the virus, as well as the introduction of several relief programs by the federal government to ease the financial burden of the virus for individuals and businesses.

That stands in contrast to the United States, where there are 330,891 confirmed cases of the virus according to figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control on Monday.

There, 26 per cent say that the disease has been blown out of proportion while only 13 per cent in Canada believe the same.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that most people in Canada — 67 per cent — still believe the worst the virus has to offer is still ahead.

3M makes deal with White House, says Canada will continue to receive N95 masks

JAMES MCCARTEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 7th, 2020

One of America’s largest manufacturers of medical face masks rode to Canada’s rescue Monday, forging an agreement with the White House that allows it to provide millions of its precious N95 respirators to the U.S. market without sacrificing supply bound for north of the border.

Minnesota-based 3M, which has been at the centre of a clash with President Donald Trump and his administration over the company’s reluctance to abide by orders to prioritize American demand for the masks, confirmed plans to continue to fill orders in Canada and Latin America.

3M and the U.S. government “worked together to ensure that this plan does not create further humanitarian implications for countries currently fighting the COVID-19 outbreak,” the company said in a statement that emerged on the heels of Trump’s latest marathon briefing at the White House.

“The plan will also enable 3M to continue sending U.S.-produced respirators to Canada and Latin America, where 3M is the primary source of supply.”

During his briefing, Trump declared that his spat with the company was at an end and sang the praises of Mike Roman, the company’s chief executive, as he announced that 3M would be producing 166.5 million masks for overtaxed and under-supplied health care professionals across the U.S.

He didn’t mention, however, that those N95 masks would be coming from the company’s manufacturing facilities in China, which is how 3M said it will meet at least some of the ever-increasing American demand while still filling orders both north and south of the U.S.

“We share the same goals of providing much-needed respirators to Americans across the country and combating criminals who seek to take advantage of the current crisis,” Roman said in a statement.

“These imports will supplement the 35 million N95 respirators we currently produce per month in the United States.”

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called out the U.S. by name, complaining that Canada had been having problems for weeks with incomplete or non-existent deliveries of critical COVID-19 countermeasures — particularly respirators, which are the subject of skyrocketing demand around the world.

“We have recognized over the past weeks a number of situations in which shipments coming from different countries around the world have been delayed, (or) haven’t arrived with as many products as we were hoping to see,” Trudeau said.

“This continues to be an ongoing problem — specifically with the United States. We are working with them to ensure the orders Canada has placed get delivered. We expect those shipments to come.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford complained Monday about a shipment of Ontario-bound masks being held up at the Canada-U.S. border over the weekend, a circumstance he attributed directly to Trump’s decision to order American producers to prioritize the domestic market.

“We’re putting pressure on the U.S. from all sides. It’s absolutely critical that we get an exemption from this presidential order,” said Ford, who appeared stricken as he warned that the province’s stockpile of supplies would run out in a matter of days.

“It’s certain items that the whole world is trying to get their hands on right now, and I’m doing the same thing,” he said. “I’ll be on this like a dog on a bone.”

Ford initially said that a shipment of three million masks was turned around at the border, and that after a conversation with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, he’d been able to secure 500,000. But Ontario government officials later said the premier was mistaken — that the delayed shipment had only been 500,000 masks in the first place.

Regardless of the numbers, Ford said he wants to lay eyes on the goods before declaring his efforts successful.

“I go back to trust, but verify,” he said, noting that Lighthizer gave him a “glimmer of hope” that the U.S. would be more co-operative in future. “I’ve heard in the past, ‘It’s on its way, it’s on its way,’ (but) it wasn’t on its way.”

Following the news of a resolution between 3M and the White House, Ford tweeted that he was pleased with the outcome.

The Trump White House has invoked the Defense Production Act to compel U.S. manufacturers of the equipment, such as 3M and Honeywell, to prioritize orders being co-ordinated by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The White House insisted late last week those orders wouldn’t interfere with exports that are in the national interests of the United States — a late-day caveat that came after 3M expressly disclosed that the administration had asked that it stop exporting N95 masks.

But reports from around the world suggest the U.S. is using its unmatched buying power and international clout to muscle out smaller buyers. Germany, France and Brazil have all complained about having orders resold out from under them — sometimes right on the airport tarmac after a last-minute exchange of cash.

“We feel we are being hurt,” said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. She said Canada continues to drive home the point that given the interconnected nature of supply chains between Canada and the U.S., “a win-win outcome, where both parties continue to help each other, is the very best outcome.

“We look forward to a definitive resolution to this situation.”

Freeland also singled out 3M and Roman for their “very, very responsible” position in standing up to the White House. As an international supplier of one of the most important pieces of personal protective equipment, 3M is in a “very special place” right now as it seeks to balance domestic demands with global humanitarian responsibilities, she noted.

“It is really a Wild West when it comes to buying medical supplies right now,” Freeland said. “This is a global pandemic, and every country in the world is doing its best in a truly fierce competition to get medical equipment.”

1 dead in Thorncliffe Park area shooting

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Apr 6th, 2020

The homicide unit is investigating a fatal shooting that happened in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood Sunday night.

Emergency crews were called to the scene near Overlea Boulevard and Thorncliffe Park Drive just before 11 p.m. after multiple gunshots were heard in the area.

According to police, multiple shots were heard near a vehicle parked in Leaside Park and a number of people were seen running from the area.

When police arrived at the scene they found the victim sitting in a car that had crashed into the side of the Leaside Park Pool building.

Paramedics quickly began performing CPR and first aid on the victim to try to save their life. However, the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

There has been no word on the victim’s identity.

Police used drone technology to help officers search the area for suspects and collect aerial images of the crime scene.

No suspect description has been released.

Investigators are asking anyone to may have seen the shooting or have information on the case, to come forward and speak with police.

Police, by-law officers turn away almost 1,000 cars from Toronto parks

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Apr 6th, 2020

Toronto officials say while most people are practicing physical distancing in city parks this weekend, there remains some problem areas across the city.

Officials say they turned away 800 vehicles from Bluffers Park and another 140 vehicles were deterred from parking at High Park on the first day of an enforcement blitz on Saturday. Police say they issued 19 parking tickets as well.

As well, another 141 complaints were received about gatherings and unsafe behaviour at parks

By-law officers along with Toronto police issued a total of 10 tickets to people related to park amenities while five non-essential businesses were ticketed for violating provincial orders. Toronto Public Health says it received 28 complaints related to non-essential businesses remaining open and two notices were issued.

As well, by-law officers and police spoke with 780 people on Saturday, educating them on the various public health recommendations and closures while cautioning another 373 people.

Toronto Public Health reported 113 new cases of COVID-19 in the city and the total number of cases has now climbed to 1,232. The number of people requiring hospitalization increased by 12 per cent to 140 while 58 of those people are in the ICU.

Two more deaths were recorded, bringing the total in the city up to 27.

E-learning begins for Ontario students amid COVID-19 school closures

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 6th, 2020

Students across Ontario begin online learning Monday, more than three weeks after COVID-19 shuttered schools in the name of physical distancing.

Teachers will lead the effort with both live and pre-recorded lessons, but the move poses challenges nonetheless.

The Ministry of Education has said that e-learning cannot fully replace the in-class experience, so the goal is to help students continue their education as much as possible during the pandemic.

And Education Minister Stephen Lecce is asking parents to help the youngest of students through the transition, even as many are working from home.

The president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, meanwhile, has said school boards have been hearing from parents in recent weeks that they need help teaching their children at home.

Cathy Abraham said every board in the province has been crafting a local plan to address the needs of students who may not have access to the internet, computers or tablets, or whose parents may not have time to oversee their schooling.

“This is uncharted territory for everyone,” she said last Tuesday, when the extended closure was announced. “We’re just asking parents to have a little bit of patience with their school boards while they try to figure it out. It’s not going to be the same for everybody.”

The ministry is recommending elementary students spend between five and 10 hours on learning per week, depending on the age.

High school students, it says, should spend three hours per course per week if they’re on a semestered system, or half that if their schedule isn’t split into semesters.

Lecce has said that students on track to graduate won’t be delayed due to the pandemic.

But schools will remain closed to students until at least May 4, the government has said. Schools were initially shuttered for just the two weeks following March break, but the continued spread of the novel coronavirus forced an extension.

In a letter to parents, the union representing Ontario’s elementary school teachers is urging patience as everyone adapts to this temporary new reality.

“Keep in mind that we are learning about how to do this right along with you,” the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said. “We know that parents and caregivers are stressed and doing their best.”

Application process for emergency benefits for workers begins Monday

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 6th, 2020

Applications open Monday for the new federal emergency aid benefit for Canadians who lost their income because of COVID-19.

The Canada Revenue Agency will open its application portals this morning to those born in the first three months of the year, with those born in other months able to apply later in the week.

The agency is trying to keep demand from overwhelming its online and telephone systems.

More than two million Canadians lost their jobs in the last half of March as businesses across the country were forced to close or reduce their operations to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Others are unable to work because they are required to self-isolate at home, or need to look after children whose schools and daycares are closed.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau anticipates the wage benefit will cost the government $24 billion.

People born in April, May and June can apply Tuesday, those born in July, August or September can apply Wednesday and applications are accepted Thursday from people born in October, November and December. Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be open to anyone.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday Canadians who sign up for direct deposit could get their first payment before the end of the week. It’s anticipated direct deposit applicants will get money within three to five days, while those who opt for printed cheques will get money in 10 days.

“While we still have a lot of work to do, we’re making good progress on getting you the support you need as quickly as possible,” Trudeau said.

However, opposition parties say there are some glaring holes in the aid that is leaving some people in need out of the program completely.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said there are “serious design and delivery flaws” that should be fixed.

Poilievre said some small business owners who paid themselves with dividends don’t qualify because they won’t have $5,000 of employment income in 2019 as the benefit requires. Further, he said a worker who has lost most of their income but still has one contract or a handful of clients won’t qualify for any money because you can’t have any current income in order to be eligible.

“They are effectively banned from doing any amount of work that might help keep their business open,” he said.

Poilievre said there are some easy fixes, including adjusting the wage benefit down slightly if a worker earns some income, much like happens when someone is collecting employment insurance but manages to find work temporarily.

He also wants small business owners to be viewed as employees for the purposes of the emergency response benefit.

NDP MPs Peter Julian and Gord Johns wrote to Morneau Sunday also asking for changes, including to address the fact the benefit provides an incentive not to work at all.

They said workers who have lost most but not all of their shifts, or lost one part-time job but not the other, “are living on significantly reduced incomes” but won’t qualify for the benefit.

“The consequences are that they are now asking to be laid off or furloughed so that they can access the CERB,” they wrote. “This is causing significant disruptions to normal business, to essential services, and to community contributions on local economies.”

Opposition parties also want more clarity on the government’s biggest aid program, the $71 billion, emergency wage subsidy, that will cover up to 75 per cent of wages for businesses that choose to keep employees on the payroll rather than laying them off.

Poilievre said it is going to take too long for businesses to see any of that money, and some of them won’t survive that long.

The Conservatives and NDP both want the government to reconsider the requirement for businesses to show a 30 per cent drop in revenue in order to qualify.

To be eligible for the emergency benefit, workers must have earned at least $5,000 in 2019, or in the 12 months before applying. The benefit is the same for everyone regardless of previous income, and is a less complicated application process than for employment insurance.

Torontonians face up to $5K fine for violating physical distancing by-law

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Apr 3rd, 2020

Torontonians face a fine of up to $5,000 if they do not adhere to new social distancing measures announced the City on Thursday.

Mayor John Tory says a new by-law will immediately go into effect ordering people to remain two metres apart when they are in public parks and squares.

Tory said the by-law does not apply to people who live together as long as they maintain their distance from others they come into contact with.

The by-law will be in effect for at least the next 30 days.

“The time for puzzlement at this misbehaviour is over,” said Tory. “Lives are potentially at stake and we will turn up the heat in the hopes that the few who still don’t get it or pretend not to get it will get with the program.”

“The public has been warned many times. Now it is into the realm of enforcement.”

Police chief Mark Saunders says up to 160 uniformed officers along with civilian members of the service and parking enforcement officers would be responsible for enforcement. The City says it will be bringing on board additional by-law officers to also help with enforcement.

While the set fine is $750, Mayor Tory said he hopes anyone found violating the by-law will be handed the full $5,000 fine.

“We will continue to do everything we can to lock the city down to save lives,” explained Tory, adding he doesn’t want a New York City-type scenario to happen here in Toronto.

Walking for exercise in the park and taking pets for a walk is permitted provided people abide by social distancing recommendations.

“We are not saying to people, ‘Don’t go to the park,’” said Tory. “We are asking for people to engage in common sense behaviour.”

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, called reports of people taking down barricades at City parks and groups of kids playing in the street while parents socialize “appalling” and “selfish.”

She said while it’s hard to stay at home with the warm weather approaching, if we don’t stay indoors are much as possible, “more people will get sick and more will die.”

“People are getting sick. People are dying in our city. Yet others think it’s okay to hang out with their friends in groups of people. This behaviour is selfish and it contributes to virus spread in our community. And it is not acceptable.”

There are now 897 total cases of COVID-19 in the Toronto, an increase of 10 per cent from the previous day. Of those cases, 86 people are in hospital with 39 of those patients in the ICU.

Dr. de Villa revised the death toll to 11, down from 19. She said that Toronto Public Health are aware of other deaths but those are being further investigated to confirm they are COVID-19 related.

Ontario returns to table with last teachers’ union as backdrop for talks changes

SHAWN JEFFORDS and THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Apr 3rd, 2020

The Ontario government is attempting to close an ugly round of bargaining as it restarts talks with the only remaining teachers’ union without a contract, and an expert says the COVID-19 pandemic may create a path to labour peace.

University of Toronto professor and former deputy education minister Charles Pascal says the unprecedented crisis, and the dramatic response that has altered daily life, have also changed the tone coming from the government.

Pascal said Premier Doug Ford’s government has abandoned the inflammatory rhetoric and divisive public bargaining it had engaged in with the province’s teachers’ unions since last summer, focusing instead on calm, clear pandemic response.

That new approach appears to have had an effect on the once-turbulent talks that led to near-daily walkouts and strikes, closing schools just weeks ago.

“It takes the pressure off so that people can sit at the table, quietly, while attention is being paid elsewhere,” he said. “All of a sudden the government wants to appear genuine about being fair in every direction.”

In recent weeks, the province has secured tentative agreements with three of four teachers’ unions that had been without contracts since August.

On Thursday, the government returned to the bargaining table with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which is the last union without a deal.

But with schools now shuttered until at least May because of the pandemic, and the government and teachers working together to help students learn from home, Pascal said the tension built up between all parties appears to have diminished.

“There’s a kind of fairness that’s arisen on the scene that’s led to deals with the other federations,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday the government is ready to work with the OSSTF to reach an agreement.

“The time is now to drive deals with all remaining union partners,” Lecce said in a statement. “We will remain a positive and driving force at the bargaining table, advancing the priorities of parents and students.”

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said the union, which has been engaged in only informal discussions with the government since December, is also ready to get back to the bargaining table.

He acknowledged that the pandemic has affected talks, even on a logistical level, with all future bargaining taking place via teleconference.

“Negotiations never happen in a vacuum, they happen in an environment,” Bischof said. “The environment has an effect on bargaining. What exactly that will be isn’t something I’m prepared to pre-judge.”

Bischof said he’s not concerned that the public support he felt the teachers had built over the past few months has disappeared.

“I’m not worried,” he said. “I’m cognizant of the reality within which we find ourselves. I have to tell you, it’s the reality in which my members are … doing their very best to provide continuity of learning for students, have reached out to students and are worried for them and their well-being.”

In recent weeks, the province has reached agreements with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens.

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