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Coronavirus: N.L. recalls legislature for ‘urgent’ protections for employees, tenants

Coronavirus outbreak: 15 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Newfoundland and Labrador
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, announced on Thursday 15 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province, bringing the total number of cases to 82. Dr. Fitzgerald said all new cases are in the eastern health region, and that public health initiating contact tracing for the new cases and the contacts will be advised to self-isolate.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s legislature is being recalled as the province looks to implement a series of legislative protections for residents during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The legislation is being introduced in the province’s House of Assembly on Thursday and will include a series of amendments that will complement other initiatives to “support residents, families and businesses,” according to a release from the province.

“This an extraordinary time in our province and around the world,” said Premier Dwight Ball in the press release.

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“It has never been more important to work together as legislators to advance legislation that supports the social and economic well-being of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”

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Only 10 of the province’s 40 members of the House of Assembly — just enough for quorum — will sit to pass the legislation on Thursday.

“It has never been more important for all of us to work together. Even as legislatures to advance significant legislation, said Ball during an update Thursday afternoon.

“Collaboration is at the forefront, politics is set aside.”

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READ MORE: Newfoundland issues stark warning as COVID-19 cases nearly double overnight

Chief among the amendments is protection for employees against losing their jobs if they must take time off as a result of COVID-19.

That includes circumstances in which the employee:

  • has returned from travel and must self-isolate
  • is under medical investigation or treatment for COVID-19
  • is in isolation or quarantine
  • is acting under direction from public health officials
  • is directed by their employer to not work due to COVID-19
  • needs to provide care to a person as a result of COVID-19, such as a school or daycare closure,
  • is affected by travel restrictions and cannot reasonably be expected to travel back to the province
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The amendment also makes it clear that the employee will not be required to provide a medical note if they take leave.

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Another amendment states that tenants cannot be evicted if they have lost income resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic and are unable to pay rent.

Coronavirus outbreak: Newfoundland and Labrador announces 32 new presumptive-positive COVID-19 cases
Coronavirus outbreak: Newfoundland and Labrador announces 32 new presumptive-positive COVID-19 cases

The legislation also extends the supply order for the provincial government until Sept. 30 in the event that the House of Assembly is unable to meet until at least June 2020.

That supply order will ensure that government services such as health care can continue.

A $200-million contingency fund will be created through the legislation in order to address the impacts of COVID-19 and reduce oil prices.

The provincial government will also be provided $2 billion in borrowing authority to allow for ongoing government operations.

READ MORE: Newfoundland woman arrested for refusing to self isolate after talking to police

The legislation will also authorize the temporary variation of deadlines and time periods for annual reports and audit reviews.

Changes will also be introduced to the province’s Hydro Corporation Act to authorize additional borrowing capacity and protect against reduction in revenues.

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Ball also noted that all existing contracts the government has with businesses will be honoured for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means businesses and the contractors who have existing contracts with the government are required to continue to pay employees who were put in place prior to the issues of the public health state of emergency.

“This is not an opportunity for you to make more money while we continue to pay those contractors,” said Ball.

“The least you can do is pay your employees.”

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The province is also looking to introduce new restrictions around ferries in the province.

Ferries are now limiting passengers to essential workers travelling to and from their workplace, patients travelling for medical reasons and people travelling to purchase essential goods or supplies not available in their own community.

The Premier says the number of trips for each ferry run is being reduced to allow more time to clean in between trips. The Qajaq W has also been reduced to allow only 53 passengers.

15 new cases in Newfoundland and Labrador

As Ball emphasized the importance of staying home as much as possible, the province announced 15 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in the province to 82.

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A majority of the cases are connected to Caul’s Funeral Home in St. John’s, which was visited by someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 earlier this month.

What will life look like after the COVID-19 pandemic?
What will life look like after the COVID-19 pandemic?

On Wednesday, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, ordered anyone who attended the funeral home between March 15 and 17 to self-isolate until April 1.

“This virus, for most people, presents with mild symptoms,” she explained. “The days of going to work with the sniffles are over.”

In addition to fines up to $2,500 and six months in jail, residents can now have their driver’s licence seized for failing to adhere to self-isolation requirements under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act.

Four teams of paramedics are currently in self-isolation after attending a call where a patient was potentially exposed to COVID-19.

“If you need an ambulance please make sure you tell the dispatch at the time of call if you were exposed,” said health minister John Haggie.

The health minister said that nobody will be denied medical attention, but the information is important for first responders to take extra precautions.

“Crew will need to use PPE. That will not stop ambulances coming,” Haggie said. “Every ambulance in this province has a PPE kit.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

— With files from Global News’ Elizabeth McSheffrey