Coronavirus updates: Amazon to end pandemic pay raise for warehouse workers; Health Canada approves first clinical trials for possible COVID-19 vaccine


Top COVID-19 stories and news

Case summary

  • As of May 15, there are 22,313, known cases of COVID-19 in Ontario.
  • 16,641 cases have been resolved in the province and 1,858 people have died.
  • As of May 15, there are 8,386 cases in Toronto, 6,189 cases are resolved and 672 people have died.

The latest local and Canadian news on novel coronavirus

4:55 pm Amazon to end pandemic pay raise for warehouse workers at end of May

Amazon is ending a $2 per hour pay raise and double overtime for Canadian warehouse workers at the end of this month, the company confirmed in a statement.

The pandemic pay program was initially due to expire at the end of April, but Amazon extended it to May 30.

“This appreciation pay incentive enabled us to deliver essential items to communities during these unprecedented times,” company spokesperson Kelly Cheesemen wrote in an email to NOW. “We are grateful to associates supporting customers during a time of increased demand, and are returning to our regular pay and overtime wages at the end of the month.”

As owner Jeff Bezos is reportedly poised to become the world’s first trillionaire, Amazon has faced criticism for treatment of employees and safety concerns during the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Canadian executive Tim Bray, a senior engineer in the company’s cloud computing division, quit his job in solidarity with whistleblowers speaking out on behalf of frightened warehouse workers.

4 pm Toronto reports 129 new COVID-19 cases, 15 deaths

The number of COVID-19 infections in Toronto has gone up by 129 to 8,386, Toronto Public Health reported on Saturday. There have also been 15 more deaths. In all, 672 people in the city have died from COVID-19.

The number of resolved cases went up by 155 to 6,189 – or nearly three quarters of the city’s total cases.

There are also 136 outbreaks in long-term care settings.

2:11 pm Ryerson University to shift most classes online in the fall

Ryerson University will shift most classes online in the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“While the majority of course offerings will be online, we continue to explore and plan for a potential mix of online and in-person classes,” the school’s president and vice-chancellor Mohamed Lachemi wrote in an open letter. “We will also offer as many on campus activities as provincial and public health guidelines permit, along with an array of online extra-curricular programming and academic supports.”

The downtown university has started two working groups to plan for pandemic-related disruptions and manage any cases of COVID-19.

Read more here.

11:37 am Ottawa boosts Red Cross funding by $100 million

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced up to $100 million in funding to help the Red Cross respond to COVID-19, as well as other emergencies like floods and wildfires. This funding includes up to $41 million to address immediate COVID-19 needs, with over $15 million going to boosting the Red Cross’ response capacity and $25 million to support public health efforts.

11:26 am Health Canada approves clinical trials for potential COVID-19 vaccine

Health Canada has approved the first Canadian clinical trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine, prime minster Justin Trudea said today.

The trials will take place at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University. Trudeau said research and development will take time, but if successful the goal is to distribute the vaccine “here at home,” Trudeau said. “This is encouraging news.”

Experts have said it could take at least 12 to 18 month for a vaccine to become available given the large number of governments, researchers and philanthropists focused on developing one.

10:55 am Toronto Board of Health chair demands mandatory testing in shelters

Toronto Board of Health chair Joe Cressy has written a letter to the province to demand provincials public health officials making COVID-19 testing mandatory in homeless shelters, respite centres and drop-ins.

Cressy said the city is testing shelter residents in settings “where there is already some evidence of the virus” but added “this will not be enough, due to the ease and speed with which the virus can spread in these shared-living settings.”

He notes the provinces has order that all long-term care residents be tested regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms. Ontario plans to expand testing criteria to include all shelter residents, but Cressy wants to see this directive “implemented without delay.”

City officials say they have relocated 2,500 people experiencing homelessness into temporary housing, including hotels. However, advocates say the response has fallen short and launched a legal action, arguing that Toronto has violated the rights of shelter residents during the pandemic.

Cressy’s letter also comes a day after the city cleared an encampment under the Gardiner, leading to a stand off between police and residents and activists.

There are 301 cases of COVID-19 in the shelter system and two residents have died. Another eight people are in hospital, according to the city’s latest report.

10:45 am Ontario reports 391 new COVID-19 cases, 33 deaths

Public health officials reported 391 new COVID-19 cases in Ontario, an increase of 1.8 per cent.

The province’s total cases now stands at 22,313, with over 76 per cent – or 17,020 – now deemed resolved.

Another 33 people have died since yesterday’s report. In all, 1,858 people have died from COVID-19 in Ontario.

There were 17,768 tests completed since yesterday and another 10,565 cases are under investigation. Public health officials have said they expect to see spikes in case numbers as the province expands testing criteria to anyone exhibiting two or more COVID-19 symptoms.

10:22 am Air Canada to layoff at least 19,000 employees in June

Air Canada will layoff around 20,000 employees on June 7. According to the Canadian Press, the airline’s planned staff cut could impact at least 19,000 employees and up to 22,800.

The company laid off half its workers in March but rehired 16,500 people under the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program, which was set to expire June 6 but will now be extended. Air Canada has not committed to participating in the program beyond June 6, CP reports.

Air Canada has reduced its flights by 95 per cent due to public health measures and travel restrictions.

“Based on every indicator we have, our normal traffic levels will not be returning anytime soon,” Air Canada said in an email statement to NOW. “Our current workforce supports an operation transporting 51 million customers a year with 1,500 flights a day and 258 aircraft. With current realities, this is simply not sustainable going forward.

“We therefore took the extremely difficult decision today to significantly downsize our operation to align with forecasts, which regrettably means reducing our workforce by 50 to 60 per cent,” the statement reads. “We are doing this in order to conserve cash, right-size our business for the level of traffic we anticipate in the mid- to longer-term and to position ourselves to rebuild once business returns. We are working with our unions to implement these measures in accordance with our collective agreements.”

According to an internal memo sent out by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Air Canada will ask flight attendants reduce schedules, go on leave for up to two years or resign with travel privileges.

On Friday, Air Canada also announced that every adjacent economy class seat on remaining flights will be blocked so passengers can observe physical distancing rules.

10 am Canada has over 74,000 cases of COVID-19

There are 74,613 cases of COVID-19 in Canada and 5,562 people have died.

The outbreak is a serious public health threat though most people who contract the virus have not been hospitalized. 

Symptoms include cough, fever, difficulty breathing and pneumonia in both lungs and may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure. People age 65 and over and people with compromised immune systems and/or underlying medical conditions have a higher risk of contracting a severe case.