Canada Says Partial Return to Work by Summer Possible

(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 Friday.

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.

Click here for the daily Canada virus tracker

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 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 more than 380,000 people and 5% have tested positive. It has tested more people per capita than the United States.

“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

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

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.”

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

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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