More testing key for consumer, business confidence: Chamber of Commerce

The president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says more testing and contact tracing of COVID-19 patients is the key to unlocking the province's economy as the pandemic continues.

Speaking to CTV Morning Live in Ottawa Monday morning, Rocco Rossi said many business owners and many consumers are still holding back, despite the province entering its first stage of reopening.

"An expansion of testing is going to be key to help lots of consumers and employees have the confidence to return to the economy," Rossi said.

Rossi said many small- and medium-sized businesses are still struggling with pandemic-related costs, as well as employees who may be hesitant or unable to return to work.

"They have lots of expenses, including rents, and that situation has yet to be fully resolved to help those businesses," he said. "Reopening isn't easy. You have to ensure deep cleaning of your facilities, you have to retrofit, put in Plexiglas, more sanitizers, PPE, many of them simply don't have the money for it and have to stage that more slowly. Others have employees who, absent daycare, aren’t going to be able to immediately come or who are concerned about getting on to public transit until that situation is better understood about how safely we can do it."

The federal government recently announced expanded aid for landlords whose tenants are struggling to pay their rent. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implored landlords to take advantage of the relief to keep their commercial tenants afloat while they remain closed. Ontario Premier Doug Ford also urged landlords to accept the help, saying he would not hestitate to dole out punishment to what he called "greedy landlords." 

For consumers, the pandemic has created several concerns beyond catching the virus. Many consumers are out of work, for instance.

"Although some went quickly to the ice cream stores, others not so much. There are also the economic realities. Many have been out of work and, CERB or no CERB, it's not like they're flush right now and they're concerned to find out how long this is going to go and what their spending patterns might need to adjust to in this period."

In order to get people back to work and back to buying, Rossi said the key is more testing and more contact tracing. That's what he'd like to see the most out of stage 2.

"We want to see this detailed testing plan. We want to see more tracking and tracing so when someone tests positive we very quickly can track everyone they've met. We need to get more PPE out to the community and to businesses and we're going to need to keep supporting the businesses that can't reopen so they stay afloat until they can," he said.

Ford announced Sunday a new testing strategy will be unveiled soon and he urged anyone who suspects they have COVID-19, even if they don't have symptoms, to get a COVID-19 test. 

Stage 1 of reopening in Ontario began May 19.

'None of this is fair': CoC doesn't recommend regional reopenings

Some municipalities in Ontario have been calling for a regional approach to reopening, arguing that their communities have few active cases and are not in the same position as denser cities like Toronto or Ottawa.

Rossi argued the current provincewide blanket of measures is more effective right now.

"None of this is fair but the reality is Kingston isn't an island," he said. "If you had regional differences right beside areas with greater lockdowns, you run the risk of people from the areas of greater lockdown moving over to the ones where there's greater openness. We have to do this carefully. We won't know the consequences of our actions for almost two weeks, which is the period of incubation of the disease, so while we continue to live with COVID we need to do this in a careful manner because, absent a vaccine, we're going to be living with COVID for some time."

Ford said in early May he was opposed to a region-by-region plan.

“We have to run the province as one group. One unit,” the Premier told reporters on May 7.

Ontario has seen the number of new cases in the province climb in recent days. The past four days have all seen more than 400 new cases, after more than a week of lower numbers.