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Tighter COVID-19 restrictions likely to exacerbate already grim jobs toll

TORONTO — An already grim economic and employment toll looks set to worsen Thursday as governments and health authorities further tighten already tight restrictions on people and businesses aimed at curbing the viral spread of COVID-19.

With more than a million Canadians already reported as having applied for jobless benefits, the Liberal government was expected to outline how it will help them weather the crisis — an effort expected ultimately to top more than $200 billion.

The restaurant sector has been particularly hard hit with the stay-at-home urging. A survey by the not-for-profit Restaurants Canada, which speaks for the industry, says about 800,000 jobs have been lost as a result of the pandemic. Almost one in 10 restaurants have already closed and nearly one in five expects to close if conditions don’t improve in a month.

The government was planning to recall Parliament to authorize its massive relief spending — a move the Bloc Quebecois said would only cause more delays in getting cash into needy pockets.

Federal New Democrats have been pushing the government to provide relief for Canadians who can’t afford to pay their rent, while the Bloc wants promised wage-subsidy relief to flow more quickly than the six weeks the Liberal government has said it would take.

On Monday, Canada Revenue Agency is set to begin delivering the federal benefits meant to mitigate the catastrophic effects of epidemic. The agency normally has between 3,000 and 4,000 employees working the phones at call centres across the country for tax season but more than 1,000 have volunteered to bolster those numbers.

As many as 300,000 Canadians are expected to inquire about the government’s $2,000-a-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit each day and agency employees, in line with millions of others, will be taking calls from home.

The Opposition Conservatives are urging the government to scrap a 50 per cent hike in the carbon tax that took effect on Wednesday. They also want to see refunds of GST payments made over the past six months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was expected on Thursday to stress social distancing as the best way to curb the spread of COVID-19 and stop it from overwhelming an increasingly stressed health-care system. Trudeau has been trying to drive home the message that Canadians will determine how bad the crisis will get and how long it will last by their willingness to observe social distancing.

Several provinces, Quebec and Nova Scotia among them, have been patrolling provincial borders in an effort to stop or discourage unnecessary incoming travel.

In Toronto, Mayor John Tory was scheduled to meet with the city’s chief of police and city staff to talk about increased enforcement of social distancing — ensuring people avoid gatherings and stay at least one to two metres away from others. Police have issued 14 tickets so far for non-compliance related to using parks and social gatherings of more than five people, a spokeswoman said. Other jurisdictions have similarly arrested or fined quarantine scofflaws.

Experts say keeping a physical distance from others along with frequent hand washing is the most effective way at stopping the spread of coronavirus, which has infected close to 10,000 Canadians and cost 111 their lives.

Details of what Tory plans — he has expressed frustration in recent days about people ignoring the public health warnings — were expected later Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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