Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia pledges $161M to help small businesses weather COVID-19

The province has identified one more presumptive case of COVID-19. Nova Scotia has five confirmed and 10 presumptive cases.

There are now five confirmed cases and 10 presumptive cases in the province

A COVID-19 test kit is shown at a coronavirus evaluation clinic in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Small and medium-size businesses in Nova Scotia will receive $161 million to help them weather the economic storm caused by COVID-19, the province announced Friday.

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said the money will "immediately address cash flow and access to credit" for those businesses most impacted by the pandemic.

The government is giving these businesses a break on paying back government loans and business-related fees until the end of June, the minister said. The government is deferring payments and interest on loans under the Jobs Fund, Municipal Finance Corporation and Housing Nova Scotia, among others. He said that a list of those fees not being collected would be posted online in the days to come.

Companies will also not have to pay workers compensation premiums until July.

The provincial government is also not expecting payments on loans being administered on its behalf by Nova Scotia Credit Unions.

MacLellan said the province was also beefing up the Small Business Loan Guarantee program so that businesses in urgent need of money now could apply for up to $500,000.

"For those who might not otherwise qualify for a loan, government will guarantee the first $100,000," said MacLellan.

Premier Stephen McNeil made a direct appeal to the big banks to give their commercial clients a break similar to those who have offered mortgage deferral to their clients.

"We need them to look at commercial loans that are out there," he said. "Our business community needs your support.

"We've shut down retail in this province, we've shut down the restaurant sector. We need those corporate loans to be deferred for a period of time so the landlord can defer the rents to those small businesses."

'Keep the economy moving'

Financial help is also coming for post-secondary students and those struggling with poor internet service with a promise by McNeil that more "aggressive" capital projects are coming next week. 

McNeil said Nova Scotia students won't have to worry about paying back provincial student loans for six months. Students don't need to apply and the extension is automatic, he said. Ottawa has taken similar measures for federal student loan payments.

He said he's heard the anxiety coming from the fishing, farming and construction industries, and stressed that it's important that some areas of the economy continue to operate.

"We want them to continue to provide employment and keep the economy moving while public health advice, including social distancing, is followed," McNeil said at the briefing.

MacLellan announced $15 million for internet providers to complete rural internet projects to help employees and people with small businesses who are now working from home.

The minister said this will help with social distancing as well as give people better access to e-health services. The provincial government and Doctors Nova Scotia have been in talks about expanding telemedicine services in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Province orders more N-95 masks 

Strang said Nova Scotia continues to work with other provinces and the federal government to secure medical equipment, including N-95 masks. The province has also reached out to the construction industry to see if it can contribute N-95 masks that aren't being used, he said. 

He said due to the global demand for masks and equipment, it's important that the use of masks is only done when appropriate and necessary.

Strang reiterated that 811 is getting a high number of calls, and encouraged people who think they may have COVID-19 type symptoms to first use the self-assessment tool on the government's website.

They will then be directed to 811, if necessary, he said.

To date, Nova Scotia has 1,546 negative test results and is testing daily.

Nova Scotia identified one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of cases to 15. Ten of them are presumptive.

The affected people range in age from mid-20s to mid-70s. One person remains in hospital, and the rest are recovering at home. 

The newest case is linked to travel, but the province's chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, said there's work underway to ramp up testing in an effort to detect possible community spread of the virus.

"We're actively working now to expand our surveillance system to detect any such spread," he said Friday.

As Nova Scotians head into their first weekend under new restrictions and with many people isolated at home, McNeil said it's important to stay connected, even if it's not physically.

"It's an act of generosity and kindness," he said. "And as we work our way through this, it's those acts that will make the biggest difference."

With files from Jean Laroche