Inclement weather in January slowed down economic growth in Canada as GDP rose 0.1 per cent. (Black Press Media File)

COVID-19 has been impacting Canadian economy since January

But full effects of pandemic won’t be known for months

COVID-19 was impacting Canada’s economy before the current crisis, according to new figures from Statistics Canada, which predicts that the current pandemic “will significantly affect economic activity in March and subsequent months.”

While the future release of economic data should come with the addendum BC (Before COVID-19), figures measuring economic growth in January already bear the imprint of the coronavirus.

Real domestic growth in Canada rose 0.1 per cent in January, as inclement weather in many parts of the country, including British Columbia, labour unrest in Ontario and declining oil prices dampened economic growth across parts of the country and key sectors like energy.

Looming in the background already were the early effects of COVID-19. “In January, effects such as reduced trade with China and advisories against non-essential travel to China affected potential growth,” reads the accompanying analysis of the new figures.

Transportation and warehousing, an industry dependent on trade, also declined in January, dropping 1.7 per cent for the second time in three months. “Air transportation declined 2.7 per cent, as movement of both goods and passengers decreased,” it read. “Mid-January winter storms across many parts of the country caused multiple delays and cancellations at Canada’s busiest airports. The “rapid spread” of COVID-19 leading to travel advisories in the latter part of January coupled with a computer system problem at one of Canada’s largest air carriers also depressed trade.

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Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction had also been declining in January 2020 before suffering additional declines in the face of a global supply war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and declining demand for oil amid slowing economic growth and travel.

The spread of COVID-19 and the responses by various governments (travel restrictions, bans on various kinds of events and activities) have only intensified these trend lines, and Statistics Canada does not paint a pretty picture without citing specific figures.

“Because of these factors, as well as supply chain disruptions for many types of goods, temporary closures of non-essential stores and service providers and the recent lowering of interest rates, the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak will be deeply felt in subsequent months,” it read.

Statistics Canada implicitly acknowledges that January figures appear in a different context in light of current development, but nonetheless sees value in them.

“While the landscape of the Canadian and world economy has shifted since January, data from the beginning of the year are important in monitoring when and where changes occur over the following months,” it read. “As such, this release and the detailed industry summary serves as a baseline of the Canadian economy for measuring the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on various industries in the coming months.”


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