By Niki Jamieson
Alberta Newspaper Group
Resources are available for Alberta businesses concerned about COVID-19 during relaunch.
In a telephone town hall on COVID-19 testing and the Stage 2 Relaunch, hosted by Tanya Fir, minister of economic development, trade and tourism on Friday, June 19, several participants voiced questions and concerns about businesses role in combatting COVID-19.
While testing is now available for all Albertans, regardless of whether the have symptoms ? although those with symptoms are a group recognized for priority testing ? a question was raised about whether there would be opportunities available for businesses to have private testing. Dr. Marcia Johnson, the deputy chief medical officer of health, said there would be an opportunity, but right now it is not available “to any significantly degree at all”, as there are challenges around first approving such a test and then creating enough of a supply chain to get it to people who want to use it.
“In the future, if businesses decide they want to offer testing on their site, it would be a procedure that businesses would contract for, and it would be at the expense of the businesses, if they felt it was worthwhile to have onsite testing. The only exception to that right now, is in the unfortunate situation ? and we don’t want to go there ? but if you have an outbreak at your worksite, and Alberta Health Services would come and do mass testing onsite,” said Johnson.
Some participants voiced appreciation of the extension for the maximum time for temporary layoffs related to COVID-19, from 120 days to 180 days, as announced in Bill 24, the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Statutes Amendment Act, last week. The extend layoff period is intended for businesses experiencing a downturn or those who received an order by the Chief Medical Officer to shut down, and it applies to those that were on layoff as of March 17 due to COVID-19 related reasons, according to Jason Copping, minister of labour and immigration.
When asked for eligibility details for the small-and-medium-sized business grant program announced earlier this month, which has the provincial government committing up to $200 million in funding for eligible businesses and non-profits to access up to $5,000 to offset a portion of their relaunch costs, Fir said it was intended for businesses that were “forced to close or whose operations were severely curtailed” as a result of the public health orders.
“If they experienced 50 per cent or more reduction in revenue, they are eligible,” said Fir. “That $5,000, we are not dictating a prescriptive on where that money spent, we know businesses know best where they need to spend that money. So that could be rent, wages, supplies, inventory, whatever is needed. We know small businesses are anxious for more details about the application program and roll-out, so we are working hard on getting that out as soon as possible, so stay tuned for more information on that.”
When asked about resources available for businesses reopening and wanting to keep their employees safe, Fir recommended they visit alberta.ca/bizconnect, which provides information such as guidelines, a constantly updated Q&A section, list of PPE suppliers, portals for red tape suggestions, an email link to send questions to the Biz Connect team, and a survey tool for landlords and tenants.