Ontario workers won’t lose jobs if forced to stay home due to COVID 19, government says

OTTAWA – The Ontario government intends to pass emergency legislation that will ensure people who are forced to stay home from work because of COVID-19 will not lose their jobs.

Canada is facing an unprecedented slowdown of daily activities as schools, public libraries and recreation centres, fitness clubs, clothing retailers, and restaurants temporarily close or scale back services. Millions of workers are being asked to work from home, but for those who can’t for any reason due to COVID-19, including looking after kids during school closures, Premier Doug Ford said Ontario is taking a step to protect their job.

Ford told Ontarians the situation with COVID-19 is serious and will have “devastating global economic impacts” but he said people should not and will not have to worry about the security of their job if they have to quarantine or self-isolate, or if they have to stay home to look after kids or others because of COVID-19.

“The reality is we’re facing some rough waters ahead but we will get through this together,” Ford said, at a news conference with his health, finance and labour ministers in Toronto.

Ford said he would be in favour of closing the border to international visitors, but not for commerce noting the business crossing the U.S.-Canada border is critical to Canada’s economy and supply chains.

Ontario reported 32 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the province’s total to 177. Nationally the total number of cases is approximately 356, with 17 more probable cases. The number has more than doubled over the last three days, prompting Canada’s top public health doctor to issue a more dire plea for Canadians to distance themselves from others to slow the spread of the virus.

“Our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow,” Dr. Theresa Tam said Sunday. “We all need to act now. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat.”

If people don’t stay home in an effort to “social distance,” the virus will spread so quickly that too many people will need urgent medical care at once, she said.

Ontario’s legislation will not protect wages for workers, with those who can’t work because of the virus expected to rely on employment insurance if they can. Canada recently eliminated the waiting period for EI claims due to forced quarantine or isolation and has promised help for people who don’t qualify for EI.

The Ontario ministers said there are conference calls later today with provincial and federal finance and health ministers to keep working together on Canada’s response. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also set to address the country early this afternoon to announce new federal measures. Those measures are expected to address concerns about people arriving from outside the country.

The Ontario legislation will be tabled today and stay in place until the outbreak has been defeated, said Labour Minister Monte McNaughton.

Trudeau is scheduled to speak to Canadians at 1 p.m. ET, to update new actions the government will take, following a cabinet meeting in Ottawa Sunday. Trudeau remains in self-isolation at his Ottawa home, after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a trip to London. Trudeau chaired the cabinet meeting remotely.

Many businesses and governments directed employees who can to work from home Monday, and several non-food retailers and fitness clubs announced they will be closing temporarily and telling employees to stay home.

Thirty executives from some of Canada’s biggest companies issued a call to the Canadian business community to make slowing the spread of the virus their only priority.

“We urge every leader in the country to immediately shift focus to the singular objective of slowing the pace of transmission of this coronavirus,” the executives wrote in an open letter published in The Globe and Mail.

The group of 30 executives, which includes the leadership of the country’s largest banks, resource companies and others, say they stand united in the shared fight against the virus. They expect economic pain but note that not taking these drastic actions will lead to an even worse outcome. They are urging companies to prohibit all non-essential travel, allow employees to work from home for non-critical functions, ensure sick pay and mental health supports are in place and to cancel in-person events.

“While this will have significant economic impact on our businesses in the short term, it is critical to weathering this storm and will hasten the recovery,” the letter said.

“Governments across the country have acted yet these measures will only be effective if all employers step up and do their part to protect the nation’s health and welfare.”

After a weekend of criticism about lax implementation of warnings to travellers arriving in this country, the Canada Border Services Agency also said today it is adding new screening questions trying to identify people who have symptoms of COVID-19. Montreal and Halifax are among cities who dispatched police and local health workers to airports to try and get the message across to people arriving from outside Canada, after many travellers reported customs officials were not all telling new arrivals that information.

Public health officials want anyone returning to Canada to voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days.

The border services agency said Monday automated questionnaires administered by touchscreens at entry points are now asking whether people have coughs, difficulty breathing or are feeling feverish. They will also require arrivals to acknowledge that they’re being asked to self-isolate.

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