COVID 19 wage subsidies extended

TORONTO — Businesses can now take advantage of emergency wage subsidies until the end of August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday, as COVID-19 case counts and related fatalities rose further.

In Ottawa, the prime minister pleaded with business owners to hire new workers or rehire old ones to help get the sputtering economy moving again.

“Business owners: Please take confidence from this announcement,” Trudeau said. “You now have some runway to catch your breath as you get restarted, so please, bring back your employees.”

Another sign of the impact of the measures aimed at fighting the pandemic came from Ontario’s fiscal watchdog, which reported about one in three workers in the province had been affected by the economic shutdown. The Financial Accountability Office released a report saying an estimated 1.1 million workers had lost their jobs — and just as many had their hours sharply reduced — because of the pandemic.

Ontario also reported 27 more deaths from coronavirus disease on Friday, bringing the total 1,825, amid another modest 1.6 per cent increase in overall cases. Nova Scotia said another four people had succumbed in the hard-hit Northwood nursing home in Halifax. The province has had 55 deaths and more than 1,000 cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador became the latest province to say its schools will stay closed for the rest of the academic year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Education Minister Brian Warr said the province was developing plans for when schools reopen in September. He also encouraged students to continue with their studies online.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver was set to announce a comprehensive reopening plan. For now, only residents and a few others are allowed to enter the territory.

Overall, Canada has seen almost 74,000 confirmed COVID cases and about 5,500 deaths.

Trudeau also announced financial support for thousands of medical researchers whose work is unrelated to the COVID-19 crisis and who face layoffs. The 15,000 researchers work at hospital-based institutes but didn’t qualify for the wage subsidy.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called again for Parliament to reconvene, saying the current approach of limited sittings and virtual meetings isn’t good enough. He said it was becoming more important as provinces ease restrictions to be able to keep the Liberal government accountable for the billions they’ve spent during the pandemic.

Trudeau, however, said the current system was working well and concerns of Canadians “from every part of the country” were being heard.

—With files from Canadian Press reporters across the country