The city of Hamilton and its three chambers of commerce have established an “economic recovery working group” and website to help local businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
It comes as many businesses have been forced to close or suspend operations, as the Ontario government has ordered the closure of restaurants, bars, theatres, libraries, child-care centres, and recreation programs until at least March 31.
While some restaurants are still offering takeout, many have shut down for the time being. Other businesses are seeing a significant decrease in the number of customers due to social-distancing and self-isolation practices promoted as ways to reduce the spread of the virus.
Keanin Loomis, president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, says it’s about helping businesses manage during uncertain times.
“We serve 1,050 members and we’re only as healthy as they are, and we’re feeling it as well,” Loomis told Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show. “We know that one thing that we can certainly do is gather information.”
“There’s so much information coming from so many sources that we decided the first thing we needed to do was aggregate that all and put it in one place.”
That one place is hamiltonchamber.ca/COVID-19, where business owners can access resources including government assistance, small business support, export and trade information, employment and legal information, transportation updates, and information about the virus itself.
Loomis said they’re also pulling together local business leaders to discuss what happens after the pandemic is over.
“Obviously we’re in the middle of a public health emergency at this point in time, but I think at some point, within the next couple months, we’re going to have to talk about the best ways of recovering as a community.”
Bianca Caramento, manager of policy and government relations for the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, said the working group is crucial to ensuring that businesses can weather the storm, however long it may last.
“We’re at a stage where we need assistance from the government, and we’ve seen some programs that have been rolled out so far, and it’s been made very clear that this is sort of the first stage, and there will be more to come,” said Caramento. “But businesses really need all the help they can get.”
“Because frankly, at the end of this thing — whether it’s several months from now or several weeks from now — people have to come back to businesses to work, to begin with. So if we don’t have that support for business to ensure their continuity, once this is over, where will people go back to work?”
Although both federal and provincial levels of government have announced some relief for Canadians, Caramento said more needs to be done. She cited a federal wage subsidy that would provide businesses with funds for up to 10 per cent of workers’ pay for a period of three months.
“It’s a step, but meanwhile, we have places like Denmark that are covering 75 per cent of wages,” said Caramento. “And recognizing of course that Denmark is a smaller country than Canada, but their tax base is also smaller as a result.”
“So I think there’s more to come and we look forward to seeing that, but these really aren’t enough right now to ensure that businesses stay open.”
Loomis said there’s no telling how long it will be before things get back to normal — or indeed, if things will ever be the same.
“It will obviously be a new normal, and maybe that’s the silver lining to come out of this, is to understand just how we are impacting the globe, and how we need to change what we’re doing.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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