Canada’s House of Commons. (Black Press file photo)

Parliament suspended, more closures amid COVID-19 recession warning

CN Tower set to close to visitors, several universities cancel in-person classes

The suspension of Parliament as a precautionary measure on Friday was among extraordinary steps public and private-sector organizations announced to curb a pandemic that has sparked concerns Canada is headed into a recession.

The all-party decision to stop sitting in the House of Commons until April 20 came as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remained in precautionary self-isolation along with his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, who is recovering from a mild case of COVID-19.

“We’re doing well. I’m working from home,” Trudeau told CBC Radio’s The Current program. “We’re really focused on, obviously, the health side of things and the economic side of things, and we’re going to have lots of work to do.”

While financial markets bounced back somewhat from Thursday’s record-setting plunge, the country’s largest bank warned of more economic storm clouds on the horizon. Canada, the bank predicted, would fall into a recession this year in light of COVID-19 and the drastic decline in oil prices sparked by Saudi Arabia’s ramped up production.

The bank, which predicted the economy will recover in the final three months of the year, said its forecast relies on the assumption that the impact of the pandemic will abate over the next three months.

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Canada has recorded more than 150 COVID-19 cases and one death in a pandemic that has swept much of the world. Experts say the disease poses little serious risk to most people, but they also say one of the most effective measures is to maintain at least a metre distance from others. Countries such as China, where the virus originated, and Italy have already taken drastic measures to curb its spread.

Trudeau acknowledged the financial anxiety people are facing as the country goes through a “really difficult time” economically. However, he was vague on what the government would be doing to alleviate those concerns beyond some income supports.

“We are going to be putting in place measures to support people, to make sure that they can make ends meet,” Trudeau said. “We are looking at everything.”

Toronto’s landmark CN Tower, a major tourist attraction, was set to close to visitors Friday as theatre companies tried to reassure reluctant patrons they were taking extraordinary measures to help combat the spread of the virus.

Cineplex, for example, said it was rolling out “enhanced cleaning protocols” at locations across the country and implementing policies to ensure hourly staff don’t suffer a financial hit for staying home, while Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre said it would limit tickets for the next four weeks and was asking movie-goers to maintain a three-seat distance within its cinemas.

ALSO READ: Sophie Gregoire Trudeau tests positive for COVID-19 — PMO

The House of Commons also said it was cancelling all public tours until April 20.

Thursday marked a dramatic ramping up of measures to curtail the spread of the virus. Provincial governments advised against international travel, Ontario announced the closure of schools for two weeks, and numerous major entertainment and sports events — the Juno Awards and professional hockey among them — were cancelled.

Announcements of closures and other anti-pandemic measures continued on Friday.

Nova Scotia, which has yet to see a COVID-19 case, said it would require public sector workers and public school children who travel abroad to isolate themselves for two weeks on return to Canada. The province also recommended organizations limit social gatherings to no more than 150 people.

Several universities, such as the University of Toronto, York, and McMaster in Hamilton, announced the cancellation of in-person classes. York said lectures were going online starting Monday and all non-essential events were being cancelled or postponed starting Friday.

“Take care of yourselves and each other,” the school’s president, Rhonda Lenton, said in the announcement.

ALSO READ: Disneyland closing for the rest of March amid coronavirus fears

Universities in Alberta called off classes for Friday but said they would re-evaluate on Monday.

Mosques across the country cancelled Friday prayers, though some in Vancouver and Montreal opted to limit the size of the prayers to less than 250 people.

Canadians scientists have joined their international counterparts in the scramble to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, which experts caution is likely at least a year away.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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