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Return to normal begins for St. John's metro area

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Slowly, but surely, the St. John’s metro area is returning to normal following last week’s monster blizzard.

The state of emergency remains in place for St. John’s and is expected to be lifted on Saturday at 6 a.m. The city will confirm whether the state of emergency will be lifted with an announcement on Friday. With snow in the forecast for Monday, the city will have to decide whether the roads are cleared enough to lift the emergency.

In the meantime, businesses and community organizations have been given the greenlight to prepare for normal operations. In a news release, the city says businesses can call in workers, maintenance staff and deliveries to their locations starting at 6 a.m. Friday, but are not permitted to open to the public.

The city says workers may travel by any means to get to their workplace.

Elsewhere, the Town of Paradise and City of Mount Pearl will lift their states of emergency, effective 6 a.m. Friday.

Federal help

Premier Dwight Ball says more than 1,000 tasks have been assigned to the armed forces since military personnel arrived in the province last Sunday. Ball says over 500 of those have been completed, primarily in the St. John’s area.

The armed forces have been on a humanitarian mission in the capital city, primarily focused on digging out people without the means of clearing the massive snowfall themselves.

Ball says the military will assess the situation and make a decision on leaving the area at a later time. He says the military is supporting efforts to clear city streets and sidewalks.

“They were very prescriptive and specific on the areas they can help with. They are not here to compete with the private sector. They’re here on a humanitarian effort,” said Ball.

The province has asked the federal government for financial assistance related to the blizzard. Ball says initial reports suggest the funding will go toward repairing damaged infrastructure in municipalities affected by the blizzard, which will be in the millions of dollars.

Another request has been made for workers who have lost wages due to lost hours of work, Ball says.

A support line has been established through the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour (709-729-3703) for those who need assistance with day-to-day needs. Another request to the federal government has been made to see what support is available through the Employment Insurance program, Ball said.

“We’re back and forth with the federal government on that issue, right now,” he said.

Ball says provincial legislation does not require workplaces to pay workers for hours missed during the state of emergency, though a number of local employers have stated they will. Ball says any changes to legislation will come after a review.

“Right now, we need to make sure the employers and the employees are part of those amendments to reassess what the appropriate legislation would look like. It’s very difficult to know what the magnitude of the requirement would be,” he said.

Income support cheques are expected to be delivered on Feb. 1. Those who receive the support from direct deposit were not affected, but those who get the cheques via mail will have them delivered on Feb. 1.

For small businesses that have had to live without income during the state of emergency, Ball says the focus of the province has been on employees and low-income earners.

“Everyone feels the impact of this, there’s no question about that. Our focus right now has been on employees, my focus has been making sure the streets are safe,” he said.

“These are discussions we’ll need to have once we get through this state of emergency, just like we will do with all the other aspects of this and see what programs and provisions could be made possible for small business owners.”

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