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Policy Institute charts how COVID affected the North’s economy

Thanks to the region’s economy and geography, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Northern Ontario in unique ways
Sudbury from the air.

COVID-19 impacted communities the world over, but a new report from the Northern Policy Institute attempts to demonstrate its unique impacts on Northern Ontario.

The report Impact of COVID-19 on the Economy of Northern Ontario was published in late July and specifically explores the difference impacts of the pandemic on Northern and Southern Ontario from an economic perspective.

First, infection rates and spread were much different between the two regions.

“The authors found that that infection rates were much lower in Northern Ontario than in Southern Ontario, and the timing of the waves of infections in the North did not match up with those in the South,” a release from NPI summarizes. “Even in the North there were differences in the infection rates across public health units. Potential reasons for this include a regional industrial composition difference that could influence the ability of shutdowns to be effective, as well as Northern communities, are less densely populated.”

As well, that first wave of pandemic saw fewer employment reductions in the North than in the South, but when the second wave hit, the employment impact on Northern Ontario was greater than the impact on Southern Ontario. 

“It could, partly, be due to the cyclical nature of Northern Ontario’s economy,” the authors hypothesize. “Furthermore, the male employment rate dropped more severely in Northern Ontario compared to the province, while females, on the other hand, were less likely to become unemployed due to their over-representation in the public sector.”

The report found private-sector employers were “more responsive” than the public sector (which offers services that are harder to pause) to COVID-19 by pausing operations and sending people home. More men in the North work in the private sector than in the public sector.

Northern Ontario has distinct realities, said Dr. Karl Skogstad, one of the four authors, said in a news release, and that fact must be considered in the event of future public emergencies like pandemics. 

“One of the goals of this paper is to arm decision-makers, community practitioners, business owners, and others, for potential crises in the future,” Skogstad said. “And more than that, it underlines the continued need to recognize the distinct realities of Northern Ontario in policy-making.”

Based on the findings, the report made six policy recommendations:

  1. Public health policies should be implemented at a regional level.
  2. The distribution of vaccines and other health resources should be undertaken with consideration of the vulnerabilities of a particular community. 
  3. Additional employment support following a shutdown can be limited in time, as labour markets appear to recover quickly.
  4. The pandemic has affected employment more in Northern Ontario than in the rest of the province; additional short-term supports might be required for the region.
  5. Males, the self-employed, and those in the private sector in Northern Ontario are in particular need of additional support.
  6. Future public spending cuts should consider the disproportionately negative effect they will have on Northern Ontario, a region already characterized by relatively low incomes.
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