pandemic-rules-are-choking-the-industry

In early March, executives from Canadian auto supplier Martinrea International said what many in the industry have probably been thinking for a while now: It’s “time to move on” from the restrictive, economy-killing COVID-19 lockdowns.

Martinrea CEO Fred Di Tosto made the statement on the company’s earnings call.

“We’re seeing tremendous opening in the United States, in a lot of different places … it’s time to move on. There are good things happening, and we’ve got to recognize that.”

He’s right. And it’s probably why 12 other companies, including Magna International, Air Canada and Rogers Communications Inc., are part of a pilot project that sees them using rapid COVID-19 tests on employees in an effort to reopen workplaces.

Businesses have had enough. And who can blame them? Ontario, the country’s biggest retail market and home to all auto assembly and the vast majority of suppliers, has been locked down twice and remains under the threat of a third.

I’ve asked epidemiologists and health units for statistics that show how many cases are transmitted in a retail setting, and none has given me an answer. Some have flat-out ignored me.

Meanwhile, Martinrea Executive Chairman Rob Wildeboer said on the same call there has been no transmission of COVID-19 within the company’s plants.

On my March 26 “Canada Conversations” podcast at canada.autonews.com, Jon Azzopardi, head of the Canadian Association of Mold Makers, told me cases in manufacturing account for a minuscule amount of the total number of positives in Ontario. And yet the border remains closed to the vast majority of those he represents. Azzopardi told me the border closure is “destroying” the mold-making industry.

No one, from automakers to restaurants to auto dealerships, wants to be known as a COVID19 petri dish. Rest assured, they’re all taking steps to manage risk. Reputations — and likely public shaming on social media — are at stake. Azzopardi has spent “thousands” to keep his Laval Tool plant clean and safe.

But we’ve been in this situation for a year and the industry is growing frustrated.

Tim Reuss, head of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, described Canada’s vaccination rollout as “disastrous” during the March 5 “Canada Conversations” podcast. Canada received its first doses of the vaccine in mid-December, but as of March 7, it ranked 42nd in the world in doses administered per 100 people.

It’s so bad here that Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, went so far as to write a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, asking — practically begging — for help to inoculate Canadians.

Volpe said a widening gap in vaccination rates between Canada and the United States could lead to fewer investments here.

“If you have 100-per-cent mobility in the major market you serve, and you still have restrictions … there is a vast difference, and there is a competitive advantage to operating in the U.S. for three to six months,” Volpe said. “Sometimes, that means you temporarily shift source dynamics. And you never want to be on the wrong side of that temporary shift. Temporary shifts become permanent.”

No wonder people have had enough.