Ontario to end most mask mandates on March 21, remaining pandemic rules to lift by end of April
On Wednesday Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced the province will end most mask mandates — including in schools, restaurants, gyms and stores — across the province on March 21, with remaining COVID-19 regulations also set to drop by the end of April.
The province says improving health indicators, such as a stable COVID-19 test positivity rate and declining hospitalizations, as well as Ontario's high vaccination rate and the availability of antiviral treatments, allow for these steps.
However, Moore said removing the mask mandate "does not mean the risk is gone" or the pandemic is over. He noted masking requirements may need to be reinstated if there is another spike in COVID-19 cases, adding that vulnerable people should continue to take precautions despite the easing of restrictions.
March 14, when mandatory vaccinate-or-test policies end
The next step in Ontario's reopening will come on March 14, when mandatory vaccinate-or-test policies end for workers in schools, child-care settings, hospitals and long-term care. Individual organizations can keep their own requirements in place, and most hospitals have said they will continue their strict vaccine mandates.
On March 21, masking requirements will be removed in most indoor settings in the province, including restaurants, retail, fitness centres and grocery stores and schools.
Mandates will still remain in place for a period of time for public transit, long-term care and retirement homes, shelters, jails and congregate care and living settings. Toronto's top doctor has recommended the city's mask mandates expire in lockstep with Ontario's.
Other measures in schools will also be lifted on that date, including removing cohorting and daily on-site screening. In addition, all other regulatory requirements for businesses will be removed, including passive screening and safety plans.
All restrictions to lift on April 27
On April 27, all remaining mask requirements and emergency orders will expire.
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Manitoba ending mask mandates on March 15
Public health orders requiring masks in public places ends on March 15. However, masks will continue to be required for all individuals attending a health-care facility, including visitors.
Also effective March 15, the public health orders for isolation of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 are being removed. The orders are being transitioned to public health guidelines, similar to how other communicable diseases are managed.
Isolation for COVID-19 is still advised in the following situations:
- people with symptoms should stay home and isolate for five days after symptoms start until they have no fever and other symptoms have improved over the past 24 hours;
- individuals who have tested positive but do not develop symptoms should isolate for five days from the date of the test;
- individuals should wear a well-fitting, well-made mask if they must have contact with other people while ill or when their isolation is finished for 10 days after the onset of symptoms or test date if asymptomatic; and
- people who have symptoms or test positive should avoid non-essential visits with higher-risk people or at higher-risk settings for 10 days after the onset of their symptoms or test date if asymptomatic.
Schools and child-care facilities continue to follow public health guidance on mask use. As of March 15, they will no longer be required for staff or students. Physical distancing requirements and cohorts will also no longer be required in these settings at that time.
Alberta introduces legislation to limit COVID-19 rule-making by municipalities
As promised by Premier Jason Kenney, the Alberta government on Tuesday introduced legislation to limit the authority of municipalities to impose COVID-19 mask and proof of vaccine rules.
Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said local governing bodies will now need provincial approval to pass such measures as far as they concern private businesses. Local leaders will still have that power when it comes to municipally owned infrastructure such as recreation centres, buildings and arenas.
The province currently requires masks on public transit, but that measure will be lifted when it enters Step 3 of the plan to ease COVID-19 health restrictions.
Although 90 per cent of patrons at recreation centres and libraries are wearing masks, a few are not and some are showing aggressive behaviour, said Catrin Owen, deputy manager of communications and engagement.
RBC CEO McKay sees increasing risk of inflation without growth
Royal Bank of Canada Chief Executive Officer Dave McKay said the risk is increasing that consumers spending their pent-up savings from the pandemic will exacerbate inflation without spurring significant growth.
“We’re increasingly becoming concerned that, with the lack of supply of labor, the lack of supply of goods, the cost of energy increasing, that we’ll consume these savings -- and will the spending power just lead to an inflationary environment without growth, or, in the worst case, stagflation?” McKay said Wednesday at his bank’s Global Financial Institutions Conference. “I think that risk has increased.”
Canada faces a longer-term threat that rapidly increasing housing prices in major cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal will hurt economic growth by restraining spending in categories including travel and goods, McKay said.
“Consumers have made the decision to stretch themselves into a house,” he said. “I worry about the drag it has on the economy as we raise rates and have more disposable income going to servicing debt.”
The housing situation may also make it more difficult to attract talent, McKay said. Royal Bank has “more open jobs than we’ve had in a long time,” and the bank is looking at how many it will be able to actually fill, he said, and how to use technology to help deal with remaining vacant positions.
Canada's trade surplus widens to most since 2008
Canada’s trade balance swung back into surplus in January, on a sharp decline of imports led by the auto sector.
The nation recorded a trade surplus of $2.6 billion (US$2 billion), from a sharply revised deficit of $1.6 billion in December, Statistics Canada reported on Tuesday. That’s the widest monthly surplus since 2008. Imports fell 7.4 per cent, led by a 14 per cent drop in shipments into Canada of motor vehicles and parts.
Statistics Canada said supply issues were partly to blame for the drop in the auto sector, but import declines were broad-based with 10 of 11 product categories recording a fall.
Exports were down just 0.2 per cent during the month, helped by rising prices for energy. Excluding energy, exports were down 2.7 per cent.
U.S. inflation rate heats up to another 40-year high at 7.9%
U.S. consumer inflation jumped 7.9 per cent over the past year, the sharpest spike since 1982 and likely only a harbinger of even higher prices to come.
The increase reported Thursday by the Labour Department reflected the 12 months ending in February and didn't include most of the oil and gas price increases that followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Since then, average gas prices nationally have jumped about 62 cents US a gallon to $4.32, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Even before the war accelerated price increases, robust consumer spending, solid pay raises and persistent supply shortages had sent U.S. consumer inflation to its highest level in four decades. What's more, housing costs, which make up about a third of the government's consumer price index, have risen sharply, a trend that's unlikely to reverse anytime soon.
For comparison purposes, Canada's inflation rate currently sits at 5.1 per cent, its highest level since 1991. It, too, is expected to go even higher in the coming months.
B.C. pursuing pay transparency legislation in attempt to eliminate gender wage gap
B.C. is in the initial stages of bringing in pay transparency legislation to address the wage gap between men and women in the province, which, according to Statistics Canada, is historically one of the widest in Canada.
in 2018, StatsCan found British Columbia women made 18.6 per cent less than men, the widest gender pay gap in the country. It is one of four provinces, along with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, that doesn't have pay transparency or pay equity legislation.
Pay transparency laws require employers to report salary data, bonus pay and overtime for different demographics of workers. Pay equity policies take it a step further, requiring employers to make plans to close the gap.
Last summer, the federal government introduced the Pay Equity Act, which ensures workers in federally regulated workplaces are paid equally for equal work.
Ontario brought in pay transparency legislation in 2019, requiring employers to include a salary range for publicly posted jobs and prohibiting employers from punishing employees for disclosing compensation.
Consultations are set to begin this spring between the provincial government and stakeholder groups, including Indigenous organizations, public and private sector employers, unions and employers that have established their own pay transparency policies.
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Federal government will match donations to Red Cross Ukraine campaign
The federal government launched a matching fund on February 25 and will match, dollar for dollar, donations made by individual Canadians to the Canadian Red Cross, February 24 to March 18, 2022, for crisis relief in Ukraine up to a maximum of $10 million.
To make a donation, visit the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal online or call 1-800-418-1111.
With the matching fund contribution, the Red Cross will support preparedness, immediate and ongoing relief efforts and other critical humanitarian activities as needs of people affected by the conflict in Ukraine arise, including support to populations that have been displaced.