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Businesses ramp up COVID-19 precautions amid workplace cases

Disinfections, teleworking options being implemented

March 12, 2020
The Canadian Press

Some Canadian employers are closing their offices or sending office staff to work from home amidst fears of coronavirus spread. (Sergey Nivens/Adobe Stock)

By Tara Deschamps

TORONTO — Businesses are significantly ramping up their efforts to stop the spread of a novel coronavirus, after a string of cases cropped up at Canadian workplaces in recent days.

Thursday morning brought news that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions was asking its approximately 360 employees to “telework” after a staff member in its Ottawa office was sent for testing for the virus known as COVID-19.

Days before, a Kinross Gold employee in Toronto was also diagnosed with the virus, causing the mining company to close the office for a “thorough” disinfection and ask employees to work from home until at least Mar. 20.

Royal Bank of Canada implemented similar measures last week for a floor of workers at their Meadowvale complex in Mississauga, Ont. after learning of a case at the facility.

But even companies yet to be impacted by the virus said they are ramping up their precautions.

Kevin Johnson, the chief executive at coffee chain Starbucks, sent a note to customers early on Thursday, saying it had increased cleaning practices at its stores but was preparing to modify its Canadian and U.S. locations, if need be.

“We may adapt the store experience by limiting seating to improve social distancing, enable mobile order-only scenarios for pickup via the Starbucks App or delivery via Uber Eats, or in some cases only the drive thru will be open,” the note said.

“As a last resort, we will close a store if we feel it is in the best interest of our customers and partners, or if we are directed to do so by government authorities.”

Vancouver-based apparel retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op, meanwhile, told consumers in an email that it was pausing its rental program and the use of its in-store climbing and bouldering walls.

Working from home

Over at Ottawa-based e-commerce company Shopify employees were gearing up to work from home.

The company announced it would be taking its offices “remote first” starting March 16, after cancelling its annual Unite event scheduled for May in Toronto and halting events at its Los Angeles space for entrepreneurs.

“This was a hard decision but the right one,” Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke tweeted. “Proximity is incredibly valuable for creative work. However, it’s possible for us to work together remotely and so we should.”

Shopify confirmed to The Canadian Press on Thursday that it is also offering employees $1,000 to set up their work-from-home space.

Lutke noted that Shopify is “no stranger to remote work.” The company closed its offices previously for a one-month period to “build empathy for the remote workers of Shopify.”

Most of Lutke’s meetings already involve remote workers, he tweeted.

Canada has reported more than 100 cases of COVID-19.

Most people diagnosed experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low. However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe.

Copyright (c) 2020 The Canadian Press