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Canada’s COVID-19 response still ignores the innovative companies that could power a recovery


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There’s a race. There’s a new currency, so to speak. It’s technology

Suzanne Grant, Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance

Restaurants and retailers come and go even in good times. Tech companies were driving employment growth before the crisis, and they will determine the speed of the recovery as the economy continues to go digital and governments and corporations heavily spend on replacements for carbon-based energy. At least that’s how Germany sees it.

Morneau, though, has struggled to satisfy technology firms, which have been regularly disappointed by having to meet criteria for aid that too often are designed for the way things were done in the old economy, not the new one.

“It’s good, but I don’t think it’s good enough,” Grant said of the government’s efforts to shield smaller technology companies. “I don’t think we are valuing what they can do for our future. The world is shifting and it’s competitive. There’s a race. There’s a new currency, so to speak. It’s technology.”



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Schools And Tech Companies Sue On Behalf Of International Students : NPR


Pedestrians in Harvard Yard in 2019. Schools and businesses have gone to court to stop the Trump administration from barring online-only international students from entering or staying in the U.S.

Charles Krupa/AP


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Pedestrians in Harvard Yard in 2019. Schools and businesses have gone to court to stop the Trump administration from barring online-only international students from entering or staying in the U.S.

Charles Krupa/AP

One week ago, the Trump administration announced it would ban international students from attending U.S. colleges in the fall if they only take online classes. Now, hundreds of colleges and universities, dozens of cities, and some of the country’s biggest tech companies are pushing back.

In several court filings Friday and Monday, the groups stand with the international students. They argue providing remote education is crucial given how contagious COVID-19 is — and they say crafted policies for the fall by depending on earlier assurances from the federal government that international students would be able to attend class remotely “for the duration of the emergency,” while still retaining their F-1 or M-1 visa status.

They’re supporting an initial legal challenge by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first to sue the administration over its new policy. Existing law had prohibited international students from taking all their courses online, but the administration temporarily lifted that rule in March.

In a response Monday, the government said that just because it offered leniency in March, it doesn’t have to extend that policy through the fall. The request to do so “subverts the deference afforded administrative agencies in complex and interrelated fields like immigration enforcement,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wrote.

According to the Institute of International Education, more than 1 million international students take courses in the U.S. — about 5% of the total student body.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “blindsided the whole of higher education,” more than 180 colleges and universities wrote in their amicus brief filed with the federal district court in Massachusetts, where Harvard’s challenge is being heard. The schools range from small private colleges to large public universities, spread across the nation. “Though diverse in faith, academic mission, geography, and size, these institutions are deeply concerned with and impacted by ICE’s July 6 directive,” they wrote.

“ICE’s abrupt policy change guts the enormous reliance interests of higher education institutions and their students—all of whom planned for the fall 2020 semester based on ICE’s earlier confirmation that its March 2020 position would remain so long as the ’emergency’ continued,” the schools wrote.

They’re arguing that, legally, ICE can’t just change its mind after so many schools spent months crafting policies based on the government’s guidance. To change course so completely without adequate justification is “arbitrary and capricious,” the schools wrote, citing the legal standard used by courts.

They are asking the federal court to put a hold on the government’s proposal until the courts can rule on its legality.

When the coronavirus began to spread, schools across the country moved their coursework online. And they immediately had to make hard decisions about the fall term. The California State University system — one of the largest higher education systems in the country, with 480,000 students — felt it would be “irresponsible” to postpone a decision on in-person classes until the summer. “Because of its size, the CSU system had to sacrifice flexibility for certainty,” the filing says. So CSU decided in the spring that its 23 campuses would mostly offer classes remotely for the fall term.

The administration’s plan could be catastrophic to some schools. At the Stevens Institute of Technology — a private research university in Hoboken, N.J. — international students make up one-third of its overall student body, and 61% of graduate students. “With such a large volume of international students, inability to continue educating these students would be devastating,” the schools wrote.

And international students make “immense contributions” to campuses nationwide, they said, fostering diversity and enhancing schools’ intellectual and athletic competitiveness. Blocking these students from attending American schools would only send them elsewhere, giving an advantage to foreign nations, the schools said.

An amicus brief filed by America’s top technology companies makes a similar point. International students are both customers and future employees of these companies, wrote Google, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Adobe and others in a filing Monday. If international students lose their visas and are forced to return home, American businesses and the economy at large will suffer, they said.

In addition to the tens of billions of dollars that international students contribute directly to the U.S. economy each year, they also help ensure that American companies “continue leading the world in innovation,” they wrote.

And without international students, American schools will suffer, they said: “The loss of international students as a result of the July 6 Directive threatens the very existence of educational programs — for both American and international students — that are critical to training the employees U.S. businesses need and supporting the research that enables America to lead the world in innovation.”

If international students are barred from studying in the U.S. until the coronavirus pandemic is over, the companies said, many will simply never return. Companies in turn won’t be able to recruit those students. And the entire economy will suffer.

Dozens of municipalities filed their own brief in support of Harvard and MIT’s challenge. International students “make significant economic contributions” to their communities, wrote the municipalities, which include Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, New York and about two dozen other cities large and small.

“In New York City, international students contribute more than $3 billion in economic value annually,” they wrote. “In Pittsburgh, one job is created for every two international students enrolled in the city’s colleges and universities. And in Iowa City, the 2,500 resident international students at the University of Iowa contribute millions of dollars to the city’s economy annually.”

The federal government’s “rash” decision could also have health consequences, they wrote: It’s “likely to send students threatened with removal into the shadows, where public health efforts will not reach them, in the midst of a pandemic.”

The Massachusetts court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on Tuesday.

Several other organizations have filed their own lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s new policy. Massachusetts filed a federal suit joined by attorneys general in 16 states and the District of Columbia; Johns Hopkins University filed suit Friday; and the University of California system has pledged its own lawsuit.



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China coronavirus infections rise as some Spanish companies prepare to restart work | World news


China has seen a rise in Covid-19 cases along its northern border with Russia, as some Spanish factories and construction sites are preparing to resume work amid other continuing restrictions.

On Sunday China’s national health commission reported 108 new infections, the highest number in more than five weeks, surpassing Saturday’s 99, which was nearly double the 46 reported on Friday.

All but 10 of the cases were imported, and seven of the local infections were in the Heilongjiang province, a northern region where authorities are increasing restrictions and monitoring after a rise in people with Covid-19 crossing the Russian border.

China Russia map

Heilongjiang’s capital, Harbin, as well as the border city of Suifenhe – which is under some Wuhan-style restrictions – now require all arrivals to quarantine for 28 days and undergo testing. Under the new restrictions, residential units in Harbin – where people have been confirmed to have the virus, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic – are to be locked down for 14 days.

Suifenhe was one of the few routes for people to return to China from Russia after Russia stopped all flights and closed its land border to incoming traffic in late January and early February.

Hubei province, where the outbreak began, again recorded no new cases, but two deaths in Wuhan.

In Europe, Italy and France reported a drop in deaths in the past 24 hours – with Italy, the European nation most afflicted by the disease, reporting its lowest toll in more than three weeks.

Some Spanish companies will resume operations on Monday, at the end of a two-weeks halt to all non-essential activity. The country’s death toll has fallen over recent days, but as a small bump in deaths was reported on Sunday, the prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, warned that the locked-down country was “far from victory”.

“We are all keen to go back out on the streets … but our desire is even greater to win the war and prevent a relapse,” he said. “General confinement will remain the rule for the next two weeks and the only people allowed out will be those going to authorised jobs or making authorised purchases.”

The move to allow some business to resume has drawn criticism from some sectors, which fear infections will rise again. Those returning to work have been advised to maintain social distancing, and face masks will be handed out in metro and rail stations.

“I want to be very clear: we are not entering a phase of de-escalation,” Sánchez said. “The state of emergency is still in force and so is the lockdown. The only thing that has come to an end is the two-week extreme economic hibernation period.”

Italy is expected to let more businesses begin operating on Tuesday.

In the US, Donald Trump took to Twitter on Sunday night to angrily deny accusations that he rebuffed advice to implement physical distancing measures as far back as February, describing the New York Times, which printed the allegations, as a “fake” paper.

Donald J. Trump
(@realDonaldTrump)

The @nytimes story is a Fake, just like the “paper” itself. I was criticized for moving too fast when I issued the China Ban, long before most others wanted to do so. @SecAzar told me nothing until later, and Peter Navarro memo was same as Ban (see his statements). Fake News!


April 13, 2020

Trump’s top medical adviser on the pandemic, Anthony Fauci, appeared to confirm the allegations, which said he and other administration officials recommended physical distancing measures in February but were rebuffed for almost a month.

Fauci told CNN that “there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then”.

In the same CNN interview, Fauci said any gradual economic re-start in the US would be dependent on rapid and widespread testing. “Once the number of people who are seriously ill sharply declines, officials can begin to think about a gradual re-entry of some sort of normality, some rolling re-entry.”

Fauci believed this could happen in some places by May, but cautioned that easing restrictions would result in more infections. “I mean, that is just reality.”

He said he believed that if there was a “good, measured way of rolling into the steps towards normality”, then people would hopefully be able to vote in the 3 November election “the standard way”.

Current social distancing measures in the US are due to expire on 30 April.

The global number of confirmed cases has passed 1.85 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. There have been more than 114,000 deaths globally, including 19,899 in Italy, where the fatality rate has started to slow.

In other developments:

  • Germany’s number of confirmed coronavirus infections has risen by 2,537 to 123,016. That was lower than a 2,821 increase reported on Sunday and marked the third decline after four days of increases. The reported death toll has risen by 126 to 2,799.

  • Top oil-producing countries agreed Sunday on “historic” output cuts in a bid to boost plummeting oil prices due to the new coronavirus crisis and a Russia-Saudi price war.

  • Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to accept the resignation of his interior minister over an abrupt nationwide lockdown that triggered a spate of panic-buying.

  • Boris Johnson was discharged from hospital and thanked the NHS for “saving [his] life”.

  • The UK government is facing mounting criticism over its coronavirus response, particularly over its failure to secure enough personal protective equipment and tests for NHS and care workers, as the country’s death toll passed 10,000. It followed a warning that the UK could end up with the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe.

  • Thousands of displaced Syrians began returning to Idlib, some driven by fear of the spread of coronavirus to camps near the Turkish border.

  • China vowed to improve treatment of Africans in the southern city of Guangzhou following international pressure. Facing accusations of discrimination linked to the pandemic, China said it rejected all “racist and discriminatory” remarks.





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‘They are completely intertwined’: Tentative signs of recovery in China help some Canadian companies weather COVID-19 storm


One night in late January, Canadian Jacob Cooke found himself in Jiangsu province in China, desperately trying to find seats on a plane leaving the country and promising his brother, Joseph, he’d make it to Vancouver.

For more than a decade, they had run a business called WPIC Marketing + Technologies with an ocean between them, helping brands from Canada and, eventually, all over the globe launch e-commerce operations in China.

But that night, panic was washing over China after news channels started reporting on the highly contagious outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan province. There was little information about who was most vulnerable, how the virus spreads or what symptoms to expect, but fears were aroused. Soon, trains were shutting down, hotels were closing their doors and slowly, but surely, ways out of the country were disappearing.

“There was definitely not enough information,” Jacob said. “You didn’t know what to believe, you just wanted to get far enough away from it.”

Jacob also worried about his family, including his wife and their two young sons, aged five and nine, who had travelled from their home in Beijing to visit her family in Jiangsu for Chinese New Year, since it looked like they might be stuck there. After spending hours on the phone, he secured seats on a plane leaving Shanghai for Vancouver, and then tracked down a driver to make the six-hour trek to the airport.

Seven weeks later, after Jacob and his family made it safely back to Vancouver, the situation has in many ways reversed: Canada, and most of the western world, are desperately trying to stop the spread of coronavirus, with new measures being announced almost on an hourly basis that shut down parts of the economy, while China is in recovery.

It’s still not clear how the deadly virus will be contained, or what its ultimate toll will be, so the horizon in Canada and elsewhere remains too dark to look for silver linings.

Yet if the worst does not come to pass, the Cooke brothers and others who hold deep business ties to China can see how the global connectivity of our economies may help both countries.

An economic recovery is now taking shape in China. Self-isolation is starting to end, people are returning to offices and work in factories has largely resumed its pre-coronavirus level of activity.

China opened up a portion of its Great Wall this past week.

China opened up a portion of its Great Wall this past week.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

FedEx Corp. on a March 17 conference call said 90 to 95 per cent of large manufacturers in China are now open, as are about two-thirds of small manufacturers. The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong and Shanghai SE Composite Index both ended the week on a positive swing after brutal declines since the start of the year.

But as supply chains and demand for goods ramps up in China, they’re slowing elsewhere. Yet there were signs of life even in the depths of China’s outbreak.

Joseph Cooke, president of WPIC, said it’s been a strange year in China. Online sales usually dip during the new year celebration, but they remained steady this year, perhaps because people in self-isolation indulged in “retail therapy,” he said.

As the weeks in lockdown progressed, online sales in China accelerated as brick-and-mortar retail stores stay closed. That also provided a lifeline for many Canadian companies, particularly those that need to move seasonal inventory, WPIC chief executive Jacob Cooke said.

“China coming back online is great for Canadian companies,” he said. “With retail closed here, for example, and a lot of stuff being seasonal, it’s got to move somewhere or it’s going to become useless.”

Some companies’ quarterly earnings reports are already bearing that trend out.

China coming back online is great for Canadian companies

Jacob Cooke

For example, Nike Inc. chief executive John Donahoe on Wednesday reported that his company’s e-commerce sales in China increased more than 30 per cent during the last quarter, even as it had closed 5,000 stores in the country during most of that time.

Other parts of China’s economy appear to be returning to normal as well, offering a potential lifeline to companies from Canada and elsewhere needing to sell their goods.

“I was talking today to someone who was in Beijing and she said, ‘Here’s the thing, there was a traffic jam and I had lunch with someone, and it’s the first time I’ve had lunch with someone in weeks,” said Sarah Kutulakos, executive director of the Canada China Business Council.

She said the key to China’s resumption of regular business activity is that everyone has been “incredibly conservative about social distancing and people are taking that very seriously.”

People wearing masks cross a street during after work rush hour, as businesses start returning to their normal routine, in Beijing.

People wearing masks cross a street during after work rush hour, as businesses start returning to their normal routine, in Beijing.

Thomas Peter/Reuters

That has benefited Canadian companies with operations in China as well.

For example, Toronto-based Neo Performance Materials Inc., which turns rare earth and rare metal-based materials into magnets and other products used in cars and high-tech devices, operates four factories in China, all of which are now operating and shipping goods again.

None of its 1,100 employees there have contracted COVID-19, but the company has said it implemented precautionary measures including temperature checks of its workers.

On a March 12 earnings call with analysts, chief executive Geoff Bedford said the supply chain is largely functional again, with his factories able to procure all the raw materials they need.

Still, it’s not all good news. China is still experiencing the repercussions from the lockdown period, including declining demand.

“We are seeing signs of slowing downstream demand from our customers, particularly for supply chains that are located within China,” Bedford said on the call.

He noted that more than 60 per cent of Neo Performance’s sales are related to the automotive industry, including vehicles manufactured for the Chinese domestic market, which is one particular area where demand is softening. But he also noted that trend was already happening the previous year.

Aurora, Ont.-based auto-parts manufacturer Magna International Inc. on Thursday reported that it expects softening demand in China, though its customers there are ramping up again after extended downtime throughout February. Meanwhile, many of its customers in North America and Europe have reduced production rates or temporarily closed.

Employees eat their lunch while staying 2 meters away from each other at the Dongfeng Fengshen plant on March 24, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

Employees eat their lunch while staying 2 meters away from each other at the Dongfeng Fengshen plant on March 24, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

Getty Images

Overall auto sales in the world’s biggest vehicle market dropped 79 per cent in February, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, which does not expect demand to normalize until the third quarter.

WPIC’s Jacob Cooke said Canada’s economy is intricately linked to China’s economy, even if diplomatic spats and trade wars are decoupling the two countries on cultural and political levels.

“They are completely intertwined,” he said. “If either of those pieces go down, it just creates huge problems for the global economy.”

Jacob was in China as it entered the peak of its outbreak and now he’s back in Canada as the coronavirus takes hold here, giving him some insight into how conditions are progressing in both countries.

“This has sort of been the whole process for me,” he said. “You’re basically experiencing it in cycles: you’re either cycling to further and further lockdowns or you’re opening up.”

Right now, Canada and the United States are still cycling to further lockdowns as the number of new cases detected continues to grow daily. But Jacob and his brother Joseph both said it only takes a bit of good news to swing momentum in the other direction.

“I’m feeling like it’s very quiet in Vancouver, and people are staying home,” said Joseph. “Let’s hope we curb the spread.”

Financial Post

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‘We are hiring big time’: Calgary tech companies join forces to attract job seekers – Calgary


A Calgary-based group of tech companies held a hiring fair downtown on Saturday to help get the word out that the technology sector needs skilled workers.

Jason Moore was working as a geologist in Calgary for the past eight years until September when he was laid off.

“I left on good terms. They treated me very fairly but it was more just a side effect of what all of Alberta is going through at this time,” Moore said.


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Moore is one of the hundreds of people who attended the first Tech West Collective hiring expo on Saturday. He now considers himself lucky. Moore is learning the world of coding and discovering a passion he never knew he had.

“I think one of the great things about coding is you get to build stuff, and you get to see if it works right away. It’s like the mouse pushing the button and you get the pellet,” Moore said with a laugh.

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The Tech West Collective is a group of Calgary tech companies that have teamed up to help fill vacant positions.

“We are feeling a talent gap. Now we want to build up the talent pool,” said Tech West Collective organizer Kat Lesperance.

Lesperance works at Showpass, a Calgary-based tech company that provides ticketing solutions for event organizers. Showpass and Avanti Software are two of the seven members of the collective.

“We are hiring big time,” said David Owen Cord, Avanti Software co-CEO.

He said the company is looking for people of all backgrounds — not just tech-related positions.

“It’s been interesting because of the negative headlines here in Calgary and the layoffs that are going on but we are having a very different reality in the business we live in every day. One of our biggest challenges is actually filling the open spots that we are trying to hire for,” Owen Cord said.

Part of the problem is a lack of people with tech skills.

EvolveU is a non-profit educational institution that is helping job hunters transform their careers to adapt to the rapidly changing digital economy.

“There’s so much opportunity right now that people don’t even know about. That’s exciting for me and it’s exciting to watch the students go through the transformation,” said Jen Morrison, program manager with EvolveU, at the job fair on Saturday.

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Members of the Tech West Collective said it’s time for tech companies to stop poaching talent from each other and get the word out that Calgary’s economy goes beyond oil and gas. Those transitioning from the energy industry said the job hunt in the tech world is more encouraging.

“There [are] more jobs than would be for my old profession. It’s not that they’re handing them out, but there definitely does seem to be more excitement and more opportunity and a desire for more people to enter this industry,” Moore said, adding that he’s taking courses at EvolveU.

According to Calgary Economic Development, the city has over 2,000 open tech jobs.




© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.







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Launch of interactive map to identify all legal waste companies


In a move to better target those responsible for illegal dumping around the country, a new interactive map identifying all legal waste companies has been launched by Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton.

He said illegal dumpers were a scourge on communities across the country, and the new map available on mywaste.ie would ensure householders everywhere were able to quickly check that “the waste company collecting their waste has the appropriate authorisation to do so”.

Managing resources correctly was a key part of the Government’s climate action plan, he said, and actions such as those against illegal operators would ensure waste was managed in a better way, while giving people “a cleaner, safer and more sustainable future”.

He said some €3 million had gone into local community measures to tackle illegal dumping under the Anti-Dumping Initiative this year – a 50 per cent increase on last year. This was separate to a €7.4 million annual enforcement grant which supports recruitment and retention of 150 local authority waste enforcement personnel across the country.

mywaste.ie was initially launched last year by the Government as a guide to waste management and recycling.

Speaking at a Irish Waste Management Conference in Dublin, Leo Duffy of the National Waste Collection Permit Office (NWCPO) said there were 2,433 permitted waste collectors working across the State.

“By law all waste collectors in Ireland must have a valid NWCPO waste collection permit to operate legally. This ensures household waste is disposed of correctly. It ensures the content of the recycling bin can be returned for recycling, and the contents of the brown bin are properly processed. By using a permitted waste collector householders can be assured their general waste is being processed properly.”

Clean-ups

Kevin Swift, waste plan co-ordinator with the Connacht-Ulster Waste Management Office, said some of the waste discovered in its clean-ups belonged to householders who believed their waste was being disposed of by an authorised waste collector.

“With the new service on mywaste.ie, householders can assure themselves that their waste collector has an up-to-date permit, and also see with just one click of a button all permitted waste management providers in their area.”



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