http://www.thestar.com/

TORONTO STAR

Ford says ‘everything is on the table’ in fight to slow COVID-19 (lun., 30 mars 2020)
A sombre Premier Doug Ford is warning that a mandatory “stay home” order across Ontario may be necessary to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Chiding Ontarians for not following health officials’ recommendations to remain in their homes, the premier emphasized Monday he may have no choice but to impose more restrictions during the crisis. “Everything’s on the table. If I get advice from our chief medical officer and our (virus) command table, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on that,” he said. Ford, who will formally extend Ontario’s state of emergency on Tuesday for another two weeks, said it was “shocking” to see so many people out and about in Toronto over the weekend. “It was a beautiful weekend, the sun was shining and it was nearly 20C out — and from what I saw … the streets were packed,” the premier told a Queen’s Park teleconference. “And that’s unacceptable,” he said, adding any such moves forcing people to stay home would be done in conjunction with the federal government. Imploring people to do their part by co-operating with officials, Ford indicated that he does not want to see martial law or nightly curfews in Ontario. “We don’t have enough police in this province to monitor 14.5-million people,” he said, reiterating that “we need every person in this province to take a hard look at their habits” and behave responsibly. “Because as I’ve always said, every option is on the table. We’re prepared to take further action if we do not see the spread of this virus slow down in the coming days.” While Ontario has already decreed that only “essential” services can remain open — such as supermarkets, pharmacies, LCBO stores, among other retailers — Ford stressed more limits may be necessary. “It’s easy to turn on the TV and think what’s happening in Europe can’t happen here. But it can happen anywhere. Our story in Ontario can be different that Italy’s and Spain’s, but only if we all take this seriously.” Ford said if Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, recommends more sweeping measures to contain the virus, he will “immediately” act. “When they gave us the advice about (closing) the schools, we acted within an hour — similar to the emergency shutdowns. We’ll be discussing that today. Everything is on the table right now — absolutely everything.” Indeed, schools were supposed to reopen next Monday, which Ford said is not realistic. It is expected students could be out of classes for many more weeks for their own safety and that of their teachers. The premier said he sympathized with people feeling “squirrelly and stuffy” being cooped up at home during isolation. “I understand. It’s warm, spring is in the air, and people want to get out,” he said. “But right at this time, the more we can reduce the spread of this virus the quicker we can get through this.” Ford’s comments followed a statement earlier Monday from Williams urging Ontarians to “do more” to fight the coronavirus. The premier’s concern is that Ontario hospitals could be overwhelmed if COVID-19 is not contained. “If there’s a massive surge of people coming into our hospitals in the next two weeks, our supply lines will be seriously challenged,” said Ford. “So, every week, every day, every hour we can push back that surge is another week, another day, another hour that we have to prepare,” he said. “The hard truth is the more time we have, the more lives we can save. If we push that surge as far away from today as possible, we will save lives. And we can't do this without your full support. “Every day we’ve stood here and told you how you can stop the spread of this virus. If you can, please, please stay home.” Robert Benzie is the Star's Queen's Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
>> Lire la suite

Self-isolate if you’re over 70, Ontario’s top doctor says (Mon, 30 Mar 2020)
Ontario’s top doctor has strict new advice for Ontarians over 70 and those of any age with a comprised immune system or underlying health condition: don’t go out anymore. Everyone else should stay home as much as possible to limit the spread of COVID-19, heading out only for essential work, essential errands or medical appointments and avoiding crowded situations when out for a walk, a jog or walking the dog. “If you can’t do it in a safe way, you then you should stay home,” chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said Monday, ramping up warnings over the new coronavirus that has killed 33 people in Ontario. “Some on the weekend were less than vigilant.” Premier Doug Ford said the sight of crowded parks, sidewalks and streets in Sunday’s sunny and mild weather was “unacceptable.” He pleaded with citizens to be more careful given a shortage of masks, gowns, gloves, face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers. “The reality is, if there’s a massive surge of people coming in to our hospitals in the next two weeks, our supply lines will be seriously challenged,” Ford told a news conference where he noted supplies are coming in slowly despite a flurry of concerns from nurses that masks are being rationed to two per shift. “So every week, every day, every hour we can push back that surge is another week, another day, another hour that we have to prepare,” he said. To ease fears on the front lines, the province reached an agreement with the Ontario Nurses’ Association that nurses will have access to “appropriate health and safety control measures” when assessing patients, including N95 respirator masks if necessary. Hospitals and other health care employers “will not unreasonably deny access to the appropriate PPE.” If supplies go below a 30-day stock, contingency plans must be developed in consultation with the union representing nurses. Williams stressed that he is “strongly recommending” not leaving home and avoiding visitors for those over 70, and people with compromised immune systems — such as from cancer treatments — or underlying medical conditions like diabetes and lung problems because of the higher risk the virus poses to their health. “They have to take extra precautions,” he said. “The older you are, the more likely you are to have severe consequences from COVID-19 infection.” People in these categories should be keeping appointments and accessing services by phone or online, and asking for help from friends, family or neighbours with groceries, prescription pickups and other essential errands, he added. Oher Ontarians should limit their outings for food shopping, work and exercise as much as possible and stay two metres from others to minimize the odds they will contract or spread the coronavirus, helping protect the vulnerable by keeping rates of transmission low. “I’m not discouraging anyone from going out for their early morning jog,” Williams said, encouraging solitude. “If you know it’s going to be a busy area … you don’t go there.” Essential errands include shopping for elderly or vulnerable neighbours to help them avoid potential exposures at supermarkets, for example. As the Star has reported, a handful of grocery store and LCBO workers have caught COVID-19. An employee of the Real Canadian Superstore in Oshawa died from the virus last week. “We do have community spread,” Toronto medical officer Dr. Eileen de Villa said Monday. Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
>> Lire la suite

A (now isolated) scientist who isolated the COVID-19 virus explains the fight for a vaccine (Mon, 30 Mar 2020)
Scientists all over the world are working on finding ways to quickly test and develop vaccines for COVID-19. The first step was finding and isolating the virus so other scientists and researchers can begin working with the live virus and come up with vaccines that may be able to defeat this illness. In Canada, a joint team of researchers from Sunnybrook Hospital, the University of Toronto and McMaster University quickly collaborated to become one of the first in the country to isolate the COVID-19 virus. With that breakthrough, other Canadian researchers have started their work on combatting the disease. Today we are talking with Dr. Karen Mossman, now in self isolation, who is a professor of pathology and molecular medicine and vice president of research at McMaster University. She talks about what it took to isolate the virus, what creating a vaccine entails and what is giving her hope about all the work being done. Listen here or subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts.
>> Lire la suite

Justin Trudeau promises to pay 75 per cent of wages for hundreds of thousands of Canadians (Mon, 30 Mar 2020)
OTTAWA—The federal government has promised to pay the wages of hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers in an extraordinary move to help nurse the economy through the COVID-19 crisis. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that Ottawa’s promised wage subsidy program — originally meant as a modest measure to help small businesses — will now apply to all firms, big and small, that have suffered a sharp revenue loss because of the impact of the virus. It’s a dramatic expansion of the program and comes as the ranks of Canada’s unemployed swell by the day and the prospect of a prolonged economic shutdown well into April to contain the virus. “This is about making sure that people are still getting paid whether they work for a business that employs 10 people or a 1,000 people,” Trudeau said during his daily briefing. The government unveiled new criteria Monday to determine which firms will be eligible. Any business that has seen a drop of 30 per cent or more in revenue will be able to get a wage subsidy of 75 per cent to help keep workers on the payroll, Trudeau said. It will also apply to non-profit organizations and charities. The program will cover 75 per cent up to a salary of $58,700, paying up to $847 a week and will be backdated to March 15. In light of the program’s new, more generous terms, the prime minister urged employers to rehire employees who have already been laid off because of the widespread closures across the economy and where possible, to top up wages to cover the remaining 25 per cent. He also warned employers not the “game” the program and said there would be consequences for those who do. “This unprecedented situation calls for unprecedented action and it calls for good faith and trust between everyone involved,” he said. “If there is abuse, there will be severe consequences for anyone who takes advantage of the system and therefore takes advantage of Canadians,” Trudeau said. When first unveiled earlier this month, Ottawa promised to pay just 10 per cent of a workers’ wage and only small- to medium-sized firms were eligible, sparking criticism from business groups that it was too low to alleviate job losses. On Friday, the government raised the subsidy to 75 per cent and Monday’s move opened it to more companies. “It’s a substantial wage subsidy and it looks like it’s broadly applied and those were the most important criteria,” said Dan Kelly, president and CEO of Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which had pushed for changes. “If governments can cover the wage bill for a period of time or a large chunk of it … then the business itself has a fighting chance,” Kelly said. He said businesses are keen to see the detailed criteria. And he cautioned that some firms forced to close up shop completely won’t have the financial resources to cover wages while waiting for Ottawa to reimburse them. “Even with the promise of 75 per cent down the road, if you have no money from which to pay it, it’s not going to offer you much help,” he said. Still, Kelly said he was encouraged that the government seems to be using an “honour system” and not requiring detailed paperwork upfront to access the subsidy. “Getting this sped up fast is super, super critical,” he said. Even under the best-case scenario, he warned that the economic disruption caused by COVID-19 will see thousands of businesses go under. Trudeau was unable to say what the cost of the program might be. Finance Minister Bill Morneau would have additional details on Tuesday, he said. When first announced, the cost of the wage subsidy program was estimated at $3.8 billion. Now it could be 10 times that amount. “These costs keep climbing but I can assure people that our focus right now is on making sure that Canadians keep their jobs even if they’re not working at them right now,” Trudeau said. The prime minister made the announcement on a day when his government was originally scheduled to be delivering its budget. In a speech just over three weeks ago, Morneau boasted that the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio was expected to continue trending downward. Now the government is spending on the fly with a promise to work out the costs later. In a Friday briefing note, Scotiabank economist Rebekah Young estimated the cumulative price tag on deficit spending could top $140 billion or almost seven per cent of GDP with debt levels approaching 40 per cent of GDP. The wage subsidy program alone could cost at least $42 billion over three months, perhaps higher given Monday’s changes, she said in an interview. “We’re looking at tens of billions,” said Young, director of fiscal and provincial economics at the bank. She cautioned that it may also be hard for the government to suddenly withdraw its wage supports until the economy shows true signs of a rebound. “Even if the virus is over in three months — which I think few scientists think will happen — it’s really difficult to pull stimulus suddenly,” Young said. But the price tag of not acting would certainly be higher in terms of its cost on the individuals, businesses and the overall economy. “There’s that potential of just totally devastating the economy,” Young said. She noted that household and corporate debt levels have swelled since the 2008 financial crisis, making them all less able to weather a financial upset, raising the spectre of financial ruin if the government did not provide a lifeline. “You could have a lot of households going bankrupt and a lot of businesses going insolvent,” she said. The promised funding isn’t about stimulus. It’s about helping Canadians survive, she said. “This is more about…bridge financing to make sure no one gets evicted, that they can pay the rent and they can pay their essentials,” Young said. Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page called the emergency subsidy “sizable.” He estimated the total fiscal cost to come in around $25 billion, noting that while the federal government had not released the official numbers, that total would be “consistent” with the governments’ estimates for the previous 10 per cent wage subsidy. Page said he expects more Canadians to be unemployed thanks to COVID-19 than the peak of the 2008-09 financial crisis. “The number of unemployed increased by 500,000 in the 2008-09 financial crisis. We are likely facing a larger increase in unemployed (now),” Page said. Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier
>> Lire la suite

Internet data caps have been lifted due to the pandemic — it may be hard for telecoms to put them back (Mon, 30 Mar 2020)
It took a pandemic to do it, but most Canadians finally have unlimited home internet usage. The question now is, for how long? Most major internet service providers have risen to the challenge of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis by relaxing overages, or the fees they charge customers for exceeding monthly allotments. The gestures effectively mean that the large majority of Canadians, forced to stay home amid social-distancing measures, can now stream and download as much as they like. But many ISPs have also indicated the easements will eventually end — Bell intends to start charging overages as usual starting April 30, while Rogers will follow suit on May 31. When that happens, more than half of Canadians — according to CRTC figures — will have to go back to watching their usage. Industry observers say now is a good time to question why caps exist at all — and whether ISPs should even try and squeeze the proverbial genie back into the bottle once normalcy returns. “Everybody has known caps were bull for some time,” says Dwayne Winseck, a Carleton University communications professor who also heads the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project. “You don’t need to discriminate (service) on the basis of data allowances. That turns an infinite resource into a finite one.” Unlimited home usage only became common in Canada recently, after a long and protracted regulatory battle between big telecom companies including Rogers and Bell and independent internet service providers such as TekSavvy, Egate Networks and Start.ca. The independents essentially rent portions of the bigger companies’ networks to provide service to their own customers. The battle began around 2010, when Netflix expanded to Canada. Industry critics argued that the large, vertically integrated broadcast-telecom companies were instituting monthly caps along with overage fees to discourage streaming and thereby protect their TV offerings. The companies retorted by saying that caps were necessary to prevent congestion on their networks. In 2009, the CRTC stepped in and ruled that telecom providers should invest and expand their networks as the primary means of combating congestion, with caps that discouraged streaming to be used as a backup. The regulator then put into place a capacity-based billing system for wholesale ISPs, wherein those companies could essentially purchase virtual traffic pipes from network owners. In doing so, the CRTC rejected a usage-based approach — where wholesale ISPs would be billed for every gigabyte used by their customers regardless of time of day — that network owners had favoured. The capacity-based model meant that independent ISPs had to provision their bandwidth needs only for peak hours, which was evenings, when customers were streaming the most. Usage at other times was lower and therefore inconsequential to that provisioning. The decision ultimately allowed indie providers to offer unlimited packages at reasonable rates, which forced the big carriers to follow suit. Since then, the number of Canadians who subscribe to unlimited has grown substantially. Rogers reports that the “vast majority” of its customers are now on unlimited packages while Bell says most of its subscribers are. TekSavvy, the largest independent with 300,000 customers, says almost 90 per cent of subscribers have unlimited. Nationally, however, the situation is far from where the CRTC would like it to be. In 2016, the regulator established goals of having download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second, and unlimited usage, available to 90 per cent of Canadians by 2021. According to the latest CRTC figures, only 47.5 per cent of Canadians actually subscribed to unlimited services as of 2018, up from 14 per cent in 2014. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority reports a lower total, with only 40 per cent of subscribers unlimited as of 2019, up from 29 per cent in 2016. Talk of congestion, meanwhile, has fallen by the wayside as network owners have indeed upgraded their networks to handle ever-rising traffic. Even during the pandemic, when Canadians are being forced to stay home and network traffic is increasing commensurately, experts say the nation’s networks are in relatively good shape. “There’s no huge spike and it’s not going to break,” says Jacques Latour, chief technology officer for CIRA, which manages the .ca website domain name. “It’s totally manageable.” Given the lack of congestion and the intent behind the CRTC’s 2016 universal-service objectives, Winseck says caps continue to exist only to make network owners more money. “It was to be a temporary measure to be used sparingly,” he says. “But data caps just became a new line of revenue, completely unhinged from any rationale in congestion.” Spokespeople for both Bell and Rogers say that capped plans provide choices for customers based on their usage and budgets, but some indie ISPs agree with Winseck and have phased out such options. London, Ont.-based Start.ca, for one, says network usage only matters during the evening, so counting gigabytes at other times of day only serves to alienate customers. “All a network cares really about is whatever your download is at peak time,” says Gabriel Blanchard, the company’s director of network operations. “If you download like crazy outside those hours, I really don’t care.” Paul Andersen, president of Toronto-based Egate Networks, which caters primarily to small business, says his customers hate caps and don’t want the hassle of tracking their usage. “It’s hard to understand in an always-on world how much data you’re using,” he says. “They aren’t technologically savvy in that regard, it’s not their core business, so they appreciate that we can give them a flat-rate charge.” Some indie ISPs continue to sell cheaper capped plans on lower-speed services and expect to do so once things return to normal as a way to cater to price-conscious customers. But, they say, they are only doing to so to keep their wholesale costs down and would prefer to offer unlimited to everyone. “Our view has always been that data caps are an artificial scarcity,” says Andy Kaplan-Myrth, vice-president of regulatory and carrier affairs for Chatham-based TekSavvy. “As we all move to higher-capacity fibre networks, capped plans become more and more ridiculous. The only place for it is exactly where we use it.”
>> Lire la suite