COVID-19 misery shows in record Ontario job losses; labour groups plead for fed help

COVID-19 misery shows in record Ontario job losses; labour groups plead for fed help Photo Credit: The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The misery inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic beyond its rising death toll was highlighted Thursday by a report showing record-setting job losses in the country’s largest province last year, with young people hit hardest.

As national labour groups appealed for more federal help, Ontario’s fiscal watchdog said 355,000 jobs disappeared, while another 765,000 people had work hours cut. Youth unemployment jumped to 22 per cent.

The job losses were the single largest annual decline on record, the Financial Accountability Office said.

Labour groups, noting many people still out of work and facing an end to emergency benefits, called on Ottawa to provide extra weeks of aid beyond the maximum 26. Latest federal data show the Canada Recovery Benefit has paid out $9.88 billion in the $500-a-week aid to more than 1.7 million people in the past four months.

While Ontario reported another 44 pandemic-related deaths to bring its total to 6,773, health authorities in Ottawa had some potentially good news on the vaccination front.

Experts, they said, were looking at whether a single shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be almost as good as giving the recommended two. Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, called the data compelling.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, two Canadian doctors say U.S. data indicate the vaccine to be 92 per cent effective against COVID-19 two weeks after just one dose. Original data suggested the first dose only offered about 52 per cent protection.

Dr. Danuta Skowronski with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, and Dr. Gaston De Serres, from the Institut national de sante publique du Quebec, said delaying second doses for now could allow more of the most vulnerable to be protected with at least a first jab. 

Those able to receive their shots in Manitoba can now access proof of vaccinations to carry with them. People can retrieve their information on a government website and print it out.

Manitoba said it was working toward the kind of formal vaccination cards available in British Columbia.

New cases of COVID-19 have plunged across Canada in recent weeks, prompting eased restrictions in many areas.

However, Ontario’s health minister said the province was considering a plea from two hot spots — Toronto and Peel Region — to stay in lockdown for two more weeks. 

The medical officers for the two areas have said lifting a stay-at-home order and other restrictions as scheduled next week could lead to more illness and death, particularly given the threat from new contagious variants.

Anti-pandemic restrictions, which had slammed the airline industry, have prompted WestJet to again suspend numerous regional flights, including all service to St. John’s, N.L., London, Ont., Lloydminster, Alta. and Medicine Hat, Alta. The measures, effective next month, come after thousands of layoffs at Canadian airlines.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, where a stubborn outbreak of coronavirus disease has hit the capital region, the mayor of a fly-in community expressed shock after a still unconfirmed case in his village.

Mayor Barry Andersen, of Makkovik on Labrador’s north coast, said the case appeared to be related to travel for medical care in St. John’s. Save for a few scattered cases, Labrador health officials have so far managed to keep the disease out of the region. 

“Community members are taken aback,” Andersen said.

Makkovik was one of the first communities in the province to receive the Moderna vaccine and about 75 per cent of residents have received both of the required two doses.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, meanwhile, said his government would compensate soon-to-reopen movie theatres barred from selling popcorn and other snacks as an anti-pandemic measure. Some cinemas have said they won’t be viable without snack sales and won’t reopen.

— With files from Mia Rabson and Jordan Press in Ottawa, Sarah Smellie in St. John’s, N.L., and Holly McKenzie-Sutter in Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press