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Canada joins other G20 countries in pledging global stimulus; Ottawa urges banks to reduce credit card interest rates

Canada and other Group of 20 countries are pledging US$5-trillion in economic stimulus measures to fight the coronavirus crisis globally, with a focus on supporting vulnerable countries that may lack the resources to keep their populations safe.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined a “virtual summit” of G20 leaders via video conference today, and said the leaders discussed the importance of investing in organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

In his daily media briefing today, Trudeau said they also discussed the need to support Africa specifically, but didn’t provide any details.

On the domestic front, Ottawa is urging banks to reduce interest rates on credit cards to help Canadians with the financial stresses caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Trudeau said Finance Minister Bill Morneau is in talks with the banks about credit card rates and is working on a new option to provide consumers with low-interest loans.

At the briefing, Trudeau was asked about a Global News report that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration wants to put military troops near the Canada-U.S. border over fears about the pandemic and border security. He said Canada and the United States have discussed the possibility, but emphasized that the unmilitarized border benefits both countries and "we feel that it needs to remain that way.”

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Developments around the world:

The United States: As the pandemic’s U.S. death toll topped 1,000 people, hospitals and government authorities in New York, New Orleans and other hot spots grappled with a surge in cases and a dire shortage of supplies, staff and sick beds.

Meanwhile, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she expects the chamber to pass an estimated US$2.2-trillion coronavirus relief bill tomorrow, after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the unprecedented economic rescue legislation last night.

Jobless claims numbers reveal a record 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as the economic fallout of the pandemic led to a wave of layoffs. Separately, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said in a TV interview that progress in controlling the spread of the coronavirus would determine when the economy reopens, a view unlikely to improve his standing with President Donald Trump, who has said he wants the economy “raring to go” by mid-April.

China: Beijing has ordered airlines to sharply cut the number of flights in and out of the country out of concern that travellers from overseas could reignite the coronavirus outbreak.

Iran: An intercity travel ban has begun in Iran, after a government spokesman warned that the country might face a surge of coronavirus cases.

India: After the world’s biggest lockdown came into effect yesterday, some of India’s poor and others suddenly thrown out of work by the nationwide stay-at-home order began receiving aid today.

Have you had to self-quarantine because of the coronavirus? We want to hear your story. Send us an e-mail at tips@globeandmail.com

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ALSO ON OUR RADAR

New ambassador to U.S. named: Career diplomat Kirsten Hillman, who has been Canada’s acting ambassador to the United States, will be taking on the role of envoy to Washington permanently.

Gantz elected speaker of Israel’s parliament: Benny Gantz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief rival, has been chosen as the new speaker of parliament, an unexpected step that could pave the way to a power-sharing deal between the two as the country grapples with a worsening coronavirus crisis.

Supreme Court to hear challenge on reduced Toronto city council: The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear Toronto’s challenge to a unilateral decision by Ontario Premier Doug Ford that slashed the size of city council midway through the most recent municipal election.

MARKET WATCH

Canada’s main stock market rallied for a third straight day and the loonie rose to a nine-day high as Ottawa tripled the size of a mortgage securities buying program, with investors becoming more impressed with the amount of economic aid.

The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index rose 231.94 points or 1.77 per cent to 13,371.74. The index has rebounded nearly 20 per cent from Monday’s eight-year low.

Wall Street rallied despite a record number of new U.S. unemployment filings, as traders focused on the US$2-trillion coronavirus relief bill and the possibility of more stimulus to come.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1,351.62 points or 6.38 per cent to 22,552.17, the S&P 500 gained 154.51 points or 6.24 per cent to 2,630.07 and the Nasdaq Composite added 413.24 points or 5.6 per cent to end at 7,797.54.

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TALKING POINTS

On what planet is continuing the Conservative leadership race a good idea?

“[Peter] MacKay, meanwhile, is busy e-mailing supporters about changing the basic personal exemption on taxable earnings to $30,000 – as if Canadians can actually leave their homes to earn a living right now – and tweeting about discussions on building transit – as if people are thinking about transit infrastructure when they board a bus nowadays and worry about holding the rail.” - Robyn Urback

What cancer patients can teach us about surviving the coronavirus pandemic

“They do not sweat the little things. They appreciate family time a lot more. They step away from the hamster wheel of work, or slow down. They bask in the second chance.” - André Picard

Why companies need to prioritize employee mental health during the pandemic

“It’s understandable that businesses are worried about controlling costs at a time when revenues are falling, but mental-health supports aren’t wasted investments.” - Rita Trichur

LIVING BETTER

First, the coronavirus slashed share prices. Now, it’s triggering dividend cuts, prompting investors to look for sectors that offer reliable income streams in times of trouble. Yield Hog columnist John Heinzl consulted analysts for areas of relative safety. Canada’s big banks are unlikely to reduce dividends given their financial strength. Other sectors that will likely be spared include telecom companies, utilities, pipelines and power producers, they say.

LONG READ FOR A LONG COMMUTE - OR SOME SOCIAL DISTANCING DOWNTIME

The members of our households who enjoy self-isolation? Our pets

Alison Murphy and daughter with their dog Stella.Alison Murphy

Stella, an eight-year-old pit bull-labrador mix, doesn’t know anything about self-isolation, quarantine or the COVID-19 pandemic that has dramatically altered life around the world.

All she knows is that she’s suddenly getting to go for long romps through the woods outside the village of Gagetown, N.B., every afternoon with her family, instead of waiting alone all day for a short walk around the block.

“She’s loving it, and it’s become the best part of our day. It’s keeping us sane,” said the dog’s owner, Alison Murphy, a mother of two. “Normally, Stella is home alone from about 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Now she’s with us all the time.”

With thousands of Canadians spending a lot more time at home with their pets, the animals we share our lives with may be enjoying social distancing more than anyone. In many cases, those pets are also helping their owners deal with these anxious times, too. Read Greg Mercer’s full story here.

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