Trudeau announces new business supports as COVID cases continue to spike

The new business supports include a new rent support program that will go directly to businesses

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OTTAWA – With COVID cases rising exponentially, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered new support to businesses Friday, just as many will be forced to close their doors due to new lockdowns.

“We are at a tipping point in this pandemic. Not only is the second wave underway, but yesterday we saw the highest daily recorded cases, well above what we saw in the spring,” Trudeau said at a press conference.

Trudeau pleaded with Canadians to come together, do the right thing, reduce their exposures and bend the curve downward.

“When things were at their bleakest during the first wave Canadians pulled together,” he said. “We flattened the curve before. We can do it again.”

When things were at their bleakest during the first wave Canadians pulled together

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions in Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region as his province hit a new record number of daily cases with 939 new cases and hospitalization also on the rise.

“The pandemic has picked up speed at an alarming rate,” Ford said.

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Hospitalizations in the province have grown 250 per cent in the last three weeks, and Ford said if the trends continued, ICUs would be overwhelmed.

“Left unchecked, we risk, worst-case scenarios first seen in Italy and New York City.”

Early in the pandemic, in parts of New York City and in Northern Italy, hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and death rates spiked because doctors couldn’t keep up with the influx of sick people. Ford’s officials warned that hospitals could be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks if cases continue to rise.

Ontario was not alone with rising case counts. Quebec had more than 1,000 new cases on Friday, as it has for almost all of the last week. Alberta is also seeing cases on the rise, particularly around Edmonton.

However, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government will continue to take a “lighter approach” when it comes to restrictions.

“We want as much as humanly possible to maintain our approach, which is focused on people exercising personal responsibility,” he said Friday.

New modelling from the public health agency predicts a rapid rise in case over the next ten days. Canada currently has roughly 175,000 cases, and in a worse case scenario could reach as many as 200,000 by Oct. 17. In the worst case scenario, there could also be about another 250 deaths in that time frame.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said individual Canadians have to reduce their contacts if the virus is to be contained. She urged people to stay home as much as possible.

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“This will not be easy and will require hard choices between what we need to do and what we would like to do.”

Ford’s closures will end indoor-dining in the three communities, just as the weather makes patio dining untenable. The province will also close gyms, casinos and cinemas. The measures which went into force first thing Saturday will last for at least 28 days.

The premier has been under pressure for weeks to take more aggressive measures to curb the virus’s spread. Hospital and local public health officials have called for him to act sooner, but he said he was awaiting clear data and that arrived Thursday evening.

He said he was desperate to avoid closing businesses again, but felt he had no choice.

“It was the single toughest decision I’ve made since I’ve taken office,” Ford said.

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The shuttered businesses will be able to take advantage of new supports, including a revamped commercial rent program after their initial program didn’t deliver the results they had hoped for.

The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent costs for businesses that have a revenue decline of 70 per cent or more. They can also get an additional 25 per cent top up if they become subject to lock downs due to public health orders.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the new steps are designed to help businesses get through the rest of the pandemic.

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“These targeted measures will provide a bridge to businesses,” she said. “This is the economically smart thing to do and it is the right thing to do.”

In contrast to the Liberals initial rent program, the money will go directly to tenants and landlords will not have to take part. Under the old program, landlords had to agree to be part of the program and to reduce rents by 25 per cent

Dan Kelly, president of the Candian Federation of Independent Businesses, said he believes the old program left out more than half of eligible businesses and this change will help a great deal.

“These are not perfect measures, but certainly a giant improvement over the supports that were in place until today,” he said.

Kelly said the one thing missing is a retroactive change to cover the businesses that couldn’t get their landlords to go along with the program under the old system.

“For those that have had the 70 per cent loss, but the landlord wouldn’t play ball; those bills haven’t gone away.”

The government also announced the wage subsidy program will continue to cover 65 per cent of wages until December for qualifying businesses. And a loan program that gave businesses up to $40,000 interest free is going to be extended with businesses able to borrow an additional $20,000.

Kelly said he awaits further details, but he is glad the wage subsidy will remain in place, at the same level until December.

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