April 24, 2020 / 7:49 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 3-Canada to help pay commercial rents for Main Street, issue guidelines to open economy

(Adds coronavirus infections in prisons, Alberta considering pro sports without fans)

By Kelsey Johnson

OTTAWA, April 24 (Reuters) - Canada will help small businesses with rent payments and craft guidelines for regions less affected by the coronavirus outbreak to open their economies, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.

The subsidy for small and medium-sized businesses helps them with 75% of their rent in April, May and June, with Ottawa and the provinces splitting the bill. Commercial rent aid for large businesses will be announced later.

As provinces mull resuming economic activity, Trudeau said there needed to be national guidelines that accounted for worker safety and testing levels.

“Canada is a vast country, and some regions have been hit harder than some others. We have to adapt our response to the realities of each province and territory,” Trudeau told reporters, but warned that “we’re not out of the woods” and public health rules needed to be followed.

In the Atlantic province of New Brunswick, where no new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Friday and only 11 active cases remain, Premier Blaine Higgs unveiled a four-phase plan to ease public health measures.

Golf courses, driving ranges, beaches and outdoor parks can immediately reopen, Higgs said. Spring hunting and fishing seasons are allowed.

For now, mass gatherings are banned for the year, the premier said. Higgs said the final phase will likely not happen until a vaccine or effective treatment is found.

New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said restrictions would be restored if the province identifies three outbreaks of COVID-19 that are not related to one another in a six-day period.

Alberta has canceled mass summer gatherings, including the Calgary Stampede. But Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province will consider ideas such as playing professional sports without fans, as it drafts its restart plan.

Canada’s western Saskatchewan province on Thursday was the first to unveil a plan to restart its economy.

Canada’s coronavirus cases rose to 42,750 from 40,824, with 2,197 deaths, up from 2,028 a day earlier, according to public health data.

More than half of those deaths are in Quebec, where there are outbreaks in numerous nursing homes.

Canada’s Office of the Correctional Investigator said there were 193 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in federal penitentiaries, representing 1.4% of the total inmate population.

Some 7 million Canadians have applied for employment assistance as of April 23, the government said.

GM Canada said it planned to produce 1 million masks per month in its Oshawa, Ontario, auto plant, and supply them to the Canadian government at cost. (Reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa and Amran Abocar in Toronto; additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Diane Craft and Richard Chang)

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