Canadian officials say isolation orders will be in place ‘for a long time’

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A new month means a fresh set of bills for Canadian families and businesses struggling with the health and financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as officials warn that the emergency and public health measures will likely be in place for some time to come.

With case numbers rising, several provinces have made moves to extend orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by a novel coronavirus that emerged in China and has since spread around the world. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday declined to put a specific timeline on how long strict measures could last, saying they would be in place for a number of weeks — and perhaps months. Speaking outside Rideau Cottage, Trudeau again reiterated a call on Canadians to respect public health rules and practice physical distancing, saying the behaviour of Canadians has a direct impact on how the health crisis will unfold.

Canada’s provinces, meanwhile, have been stepping up closure orders and, in many cases, increasing enforcement powers. On Wednesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said COVID-19 “numbers are presently heading in the wrong direction” in Canada’s largest city.

Tory spoke as the city provided details about a 12-week plan to try and clamp down on the virus’s spread. The city’s measures include stay-home orders for people with COVID-19 and those who have been in close contact with them, as well as an advisory that people over the age of 70 stay in as much as possible.

WATCH | PM talks about how long current measures might last: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says physical distancing measures to combat COVID-19 could continue for months. 2:06

Quebec has tightened up its rules around non-essential travel within the province, with exclusions for essential workers. The move is aimed at trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Public health authorities in Quebec said there won’t be physical checkpoints, but that officers would be stopping people at random to see if their travel was considered essential.

Emergency benefit site launching

The Trudeau government has announced several programs meant to support families and businesses struggling to pay bills, but there is no firm timeline for when money will start flowing for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or the business support programs.

Trudeau said Wednesday that those eligible will be able to apply through an online portal for the CERB beginning April 6, and that people who have already applied for Employment Insurance don’t need to apply.

“These are the biggest economic measures in our lifetime, to defeat a threat to our health,” said Trudeau, noting that the government alone can’t win the fight. “We — each of us — have to live up to our end of the bargain. We must fulfil our collective responsibility to each other.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Finance Minister Bill Morneau provided further details around the wage subsidy program. The program will be available to both small and large businesses who have lost significant revenue due to COVID-19, and will cost about $71 billion.

Morneau has encouraged businesses to rehire employees they may have laid off in the wake of the outbreak, saying the wage subsidy will be available in six weeks.

Earlier Wednesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer had called on the government to do more to help businesses, including cancelling planned tax hikes and refunding GST remittances to small businesses from the last six months.

WATCH | Conservative leader calls for tax relief for small and medium-sized businesses:

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer spoke to reporters from Regina on Wednesday. 0:59

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, said he wanted to see a pause on rent and mortgages during the crisis. The current mortgage deferral system isn’t working for people the way it should, he said, urging stronger action on that. He also said Ottawa should work with provinces to move toward a pause on rent.

When asked about April 1 rent payments, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the federal government is looking at this, as well as discussing the issue with the provinces. She did not provide specifics.

“This is a really big economic challenge and it is a huge health challenge,” she said, adding that the federal government structured its work to begin with the life-and-death health issues before moving on to programs meant to help individual Canadians “weather this economic storm.”

Health-system capacity concerns

As of 6 p.m. ET Wednesday, officials in Canada had reported more than 9,700 confirmed and presumptive cases, with 115 deaths. The provinces and territories that are providing details on recovered cases have listed a total of 1,736 as resolved.

There have also been two COVID-19 linked deaths of Canadians outside Canada — one in Japan and one in Brazil.

Public health officials have cautioned that reported numbers don’t capture the full picture, as there are potential cases that haven’t been identified or tested, as well as cases where investigations are ongoing or lab results are not yet in.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday that there’s a real need to expand the health-care system and workforce to handle an expected increase in cases. She said public health has to work hard to “suppress this initial curve” so that the health system doesn’t become overwhelmed.

Overall, the system is “coping quite well at the moment,” Tam said, but if that changes for the worse, “some very difficult decisions may have to be made about the prioritization of existing resources.”

WATCH | Ontario man who contracted COVID-19 released from hospital:

The sight of his wife after his experience in hospital gave Rene Segura ‘more of a spark to continue.’ 3:55

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said health systems weren’t designed for this kind of surge, echoing the message that individual actions are “critically important” to slowing the spread of the virus.

“We have to all act as if we are carrying this virus,” Hajdu said. 

A tracking database maintained by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., on Wednesday listed more than 925,000 reported cases worldwide. The database draws on data from a variety of sources, including the World Health Organization, national health agencies and media reports. 

WATCH | WHO chief addresses the rapid growth in cases around the world:

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says grim new milestones are about to be reached as the deadly pandemic pushes into almost every country. 2:56

Push to procure protective gear

On Tuesday, Trudeau had said his government is working with provinces and allocating billions for the procurement of gowns, gloves, test kits and other critical supplies for Canada’s health-care systems.

Provincially run health systems have been working to ready themselves for an expected surge of COVID-19 patients, but supply of that critical gear is a growing concern.

On Wednesday evening, the Ontario Hospital Association said it is “extremely concerned” about the shortage of personal protective equipment, particularly masks.

“Ontario hospitals are now at a critical juncture,” Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the OHA, said in a statement. He called on Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford and their governments “to work unceasingly to ensure that new supply is provided immediately” to Ontario hospitals, long-term care facilities and other health-care providers. 

In Quebec, Premier François Legault cautioned that supplies were getting tight — with only three to seven days worth of supplies for some equipment. Ontario had sent some gear to assist Quebec in tackling its growing caseload, Legault said.

“We’re using 10 times more medical equipment as normal,” said Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann. “So what we used in one year, we’re using in four weeks.”

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam addresses whether Canadians should be wearing non-medical masks:

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam speaks about how Canadians can safely use homemade masks or scarves, the evolution of thinking around masks and whether they actually help keep people safe. 1:59

Trudeau reiterated Wednesday that the federal government is working closely with provinces to try and meet needs, as well as working internationally to try and get equipment into Canada. The prime minister didn’t offer a specific timeline, saying only that deliveries are expected in the next few days, or perhaps sooner. 

Hajdu said Canada has the money and workforce required to get the protective gear and said the country will fight for its share as it becomes available in a competitive market. She admitted that Ottawa’s stockpiles were likely not enough going into the pandemic.

WATCH | COVID-19 cases in Quebec top 4,000:

Quebec says it went through a year’s worth of personal protective equipment in a matter of weeks after a surge in cases. 2:06

COVID-19 causes mild to moderate symptoms for most people, but some people — including older adults and people with underlying health issues — face a higher risk of severe disease and death.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says that the situation is evolving daily, but currently describes COVID-19 as a “serious health threat.” PHAC notes that the risk varies “between and within communities,” but said given rising case numbers “the risk to Canadians is considered high.”

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the provinces and territories

British Columbia is offering a three-month credit for homeowners on their BC Hydro bill, as well as a three-month “payment holiday,” or deferment, for small businesses, and an overall electricity rate reduction of one per cent. The province has more than 1,000 cases, including 21 outbreaks in long-term care or assisted-living homes. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, told reporters: “This is a very challenging time for us. It’s hard to know how things are going to go. Without a doubt, we will get through this.” But she added, “We do have a few more weeks to go.”

 Read more about what’s happening in B.C., including the story of a Vancouver ER doctor who contracted COVID-19.

WATCH | Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about how long restrictions may last in B.C.:

Dr. Bonnie Henry says she hopes for a reprieve for the summer, but B.C. should prepare for a second wave in the fall. 1:09

Alberta  Premier Jason Kenney says this has been the toughest week in the province since the pandemic began, and that “things will get worse before they get better.” The  province reported 117 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, but Kenney says the vast majority of people diagnosed will recover.  Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

Saskatchewan on Wednesday extended its state of emergency for another two weeks. Earlier, photos surfaced on social media of multiple beds in the cafeteria of Regina General Hospital. The Saskatchewan Health Authority says they are new beds being temporarily stored, but added that people may see “activities” that show it’s preparing for the “worst-case scenario.” Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

In Manitoba, there are at least three cases of health-care workers testing positive for COVID-19. Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer in the province, said the province has “as many protocols as we can to protect our staff, which is one of our biggest priorities.​​​​” Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

Ontario has almost 2,400 reported COVID-19 cases, officials said Wednesday. Hospitals are scrambling to meet the growing need, and at least one hospital has said it is installing a temporary unit to help as it readies for a surge in patients with the novel coronavirus. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

Quebec says more than 400 long-term care facilities in the province have reported COVID-19 cases. More than half of the 31 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Quebec originated at long-term care sites, health officials said. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec, which has more than 4,600 reported cases of COVID-19.

New Brunswick’s premier says an “enhanced” pandemic plan will be released later this week. Blaine Higgs said the plan will provide details on how the health-care system will handle an uptick in cases. Read more about what’s happening in New Brunswick.

Staff at an Antigonish, N.S., grocery store bought food for four seniors after someone anonymously dropped off envelopes with offers of thanks — and cash. The cards said thank you to the workers and each contained $40, and staff decided to pool the money to buy food for seniors in need. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia, including a look at some of the tickets issued for people found to be violating emergency measures.

Students in Prince Edward Island will formally start school from home this week — whether or not they have good internet access. Education Minister Brad Trivers said teachers will reach out and connect with students in a “way that works best for all involved.” Read more about what’s happening in P.E.I.

Newfoundland and Labrador saw an increase of 24 cases Wednesday, the second highest single-day increase since the crisis began. There are now 175 cases in the province. “We’re at the start of this yet. We have not even hit the surge,” said Health Minister Dr. John Haggie during Wednesday’s daily COVID-19 update. Read more about what is happening in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A prisoner at the Baffin Correctional Centre said he’s worried for his own life as well as the well-being of his fellow inmates, citing close quarters and a lack of testing. Nunavut’s Justice Department said it is working to keep the virus out of the facility. Meanwhile, the Northwest Territories reported its second case of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Read more about what’s happening across the North, including the latest details on how some Northwest Territories landlords are working with tenants.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.

From The Associated Press, updated at 2:30 p.m. ET

The United States has now recorded more than 190,000 infections and more than 4,100 deaths, with New York City currently accounting for one out of four fatalities. New York authorities are vetting thousands of medical volunteers now that the statewide death toll from the coronavirus has doubled in three days, to more than 1,900.

More than 80,000 people have volunteered as medical reinforcements, according to state officials. The group includes recent retirees who are willing to go back to work. Few have made it into the field yet, but hospitals are expected to begin bringing them in later this week.

In Southern California, officials said more than 50 residents of a nursing home east of Los Angeles have been infected and two have died. Cedar Mountain Post Acute Rehabilitation in Yucaipa has been told to assume that all of its patients have the virus, health authorities said.

More than 30 state governors have instituted some sort of “stay-at-home” order. One of the latest is Florida, where people are urged to only leave home for essential services for the next 30 days, starting at midnight Thursday. Similar directives were issued Wednesday in Nevada and Pennsylvania.

At a White House briefing Tuesday, health experts predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die of COVID-19 with the physical distancing measures already in place.

More than two dozen University of Texas students have tested positive for the coronavirus after taking a spring break trip to Mexico, public health officials said. The 28 who are infected were among about 70 people who took a chartered plane to Cabo San Lucas about 10 days ago. Texas has reported more than 3,200 cases of COVID-19 and 41 deaths. 

The Boston Marathon is offering refunds for the first time because of the pandemic. Race organizers say anyone who was entered in the race, scheduled for April 18, can still run on the rescheduled date, Sept. 14. But if they can’t make it, they can have their money back.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Italy, Spain and parts of Europe

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 6 p.m. ET:

In hard-hit Spain, health authorities reported a new record of 864 deaths in one day as total reported cases passed 100,000, making it the third country to pass that milestone after the United States and Italy. 

Spanish health authorities said Wednesday that the total number of deaths reached 9,053 since the beginning of the outbreak. Total infections hit 102,136. But the 24-hour increase of 7,719 was 1,500 fewer than the increase from the previous day, offering hope that the contagion rate is stabilizing.

Hospital workers transfer a respirator from a veterinary clinic to the Son Espases Hospital in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on Tuesday, during a national lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

Spain, like many other nations, has introduced stringent curbs on people’s free movement outside the home to help halt the spread of coronavirus. Spain is among the countries worst affected by the pandemic, with 9,053 deaths as of Wednesday.

The death toll from coronavirus in Italy has climbed by 727 to 13,155, the Civil Protection Agency said Wednesday, a significantly smaller increase than what was seen on Tuesday and the lowest daily tally since March 26. However, the number of new cases rose more sharply compared to one day earlier, growing by 4,782 against a previous 4,053. That brings the total number of infections to 110,574 since the outbreak came to light. 

The number of people with coronavirus who have died in Britain rose by 563 to a total 2,352 by Tuesday evening, the government said Wednesday. It said there were 29,474 confirmed cases of the virus as of Wednesday morning, up from 25,150 the day before. The U.K. government said it would ramp up the number of coronavirus tests amid widespread criticism that it was doing far too few.

Prince Charles, who recently announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, issued a video message as he emerged from a period of self-isolation. The 71-year-old heir to the British throne thanked health workers and said he is thinking of all the people who have been impacted by the outbreak. 

“At such an unprecedented and anxious time in all our lives, my wife and I are thinking particularly of all those who have lost their loved ones in such very difficult and abnormal circumstances, and of those having to endure sickness, isolation and loneliness,” Charles said.

Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since the Second World War. The All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet club made the decision after a two-day emergency meeting. The oldest of the four major tennis championships has been rescheduled to June 28, 2021. And this year’s United Nations global climate summit is being postponed, host country Britain said Wednesday. The U.K. government said the COP26, due to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, will now be held next year at a date still to be determined.

France on Wednesday is evacuating 36 patients infected with the coronavirus from the Paris region on board two medicalized high-speed TGV trains. The patients, all treated in intensive-care units, are being transferred to several hospitals in Brittany, as western France is less impacted by the epidemic.

The country has already operated several transports of patients by train, helicopter, military aircraft and aboard a navy ship. Some patients from eastern France have also been transferred to hospitals in neighbouring Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland. France has increased its capacity of 5,000 ICU beds before the crisis to 8,000 now and is aiming at getting 14,000 ICU beds in the coming weeks, according to health authorities.

Russia completely shut its borders this week and sharply limited the number of flights taking Russians home, leaving thousands stranded abroad. Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said the number of Russians allowed to return will be limited to 700 a day, including 500 in Moscow, due to a limited capacity to properly screen and isolate those arriving. Russia has registered 2,777 coronavirus cases and 24 deaths.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in China, South Korea, Iran and other areas

From The Associated Press, updated at 2 p.m. ET

China’s National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 36 new COVID-19 cases, one day after announcing that asymptomatic cases will now be included in the official count. The commission said all but one of the new cases was imported from abroad, while seven more deaths from the disease had been reported over the previous 24 hours. The commission did not say if any of the new cases were asymptomatic, but on Tuesday reported that, of a total of 1,541 asymptomatic cases now being isolated and monitored for symptoms, 205 had come from overseas.

The move to disclose the number of asymptomatic cases comes amid scrutiny of China’s reported figures, which previously only included people who exhibited symptoms. While the proportion of people who have contracted the virus but remain asymptomatic is currently unknown, scientists say these “carriers” can still pass COVID-19 on to others who do end up getting sick.

Residents wearing face masks pay for groceries Wednesday by standing on chairs to peer over barriers set up around a wet market on a street in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of China’s coronavirus disease outbreak. (Aly Song/Reuters)

As China’s domestic outbreak has largely abated, some questioned whether the country’s failure to count asymptomatic cases would lead to a resurgence of infections. China, where the virus was first detected in December, has recorded a total of 81,554 cases of COVID-19 and 3,312 deaths from the disease.

A senior official in Serbia’s government died from the coronavirus on Wednesday, a health official said. Branislav Blazic, 63, was a state secretary with the Ministry for Environmental Protection, and died only days after being hospitalized with symptoms. Serbia has so far reported 1,060 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 28 deaths, in a total population of 7 million. To curb transmission of the virus, Serbian authorities have declared a state of emergency, shut down all restaurants and cafés, imposed a curfew from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. and closed the country’s borders.

South Korean health officials say 43 patients have been placed under isolation in one of the biggest hospitals in the capital of Seoul after a hospitalized nine-year-old girl tested positive for the coronavirus. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday said around 50 medical staff who worked at the Asan Medical Center’s pediatric department will be quarantined at their homes despite having tested negative.

Jeong and Seoul city officials said the girl was tested for the virus after doctors found she had previously been treated for a headache at another hospital in Euijeongbu, near Seoul, where a dozen patients and medical staff have been infected with COVID-19. Officials didn’t release specific details about the girl’s condition.

WATCH | Toronto respirologist talks about COVID-19 and the need for protective gear:

‘We’re not panicking,’ says respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta, but health-care workers are concerned about PPE after seeing similar health-care systems reach their breaking point. 7:21

South Korea’s nationwide caseload has slowed from early March when it reported around 500 new infections a day, but the country has struggled to stem infections at hospitals, psychiatric wards, nursing homes and other live-in facilities. Hundreds of patients and medical staff have been infected in hospitals in the worst-hit city of Daegu, where more than 6,700 of the country’s 9,887 infections have been reported.

The Middle East has over 75,000 confirmed cases of the virus, most of those in Iran, and over 3,400 deaths. Iran’s health ministry spokesperson, Kianoush Jahanpour, said Wednesday that the virus had killed another 138 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 3,036 amid 47,593 confirmed cases.

Japan has been pushed “to the brink,” in its battle against the novel coronavirus, a senior minister said. The country is barring entry to foreigners from 73 countries while the supply of medical services has begun to tighten in some areas. Japan has not yet declared a state of emergency, though infectious disease experts advising the government said that if measures in place now fail to halt secondary and re-infections from overseas, a Plan B would be needed. “What we can do is to lock down cities or zones, which means more stringent, more harsh control on movement,” Hokkaido University professor Hiroshi Nishiura said.

India had 1,637 active cases and 45 deaths as of Wednesday morning. India sealed off headquarters of a Muslim missionary group and ordered an investigation into accusations it held religious meetings that officials fear may have infected dozens of people. The Indian government has been criticized for not adequately planning ahead for how it will support the large population of poor and homeless who have lost any means of earning income as a result of the pandemic. India is currently under a three-week lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has deprived an estimated four-million homeless people from earning a living and forced many others to seek refuge in overcrowded shelters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked all Israelis to wear face masks while in public as a precaution against the virus and said Passover gatherings next week should be limited to just immediate family members. He said people could improvise in the absence of factory-produced masks.

An Israeli policeman removes an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth from a synagogue before it is closed by police as they enforce restrictions of a partial lockdown against the coronavirus disease (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Mexico’s health ministry on Tuesday registered 1,215 cases of the coronavirus, up from 1,094 the day before. It also said 29 people died in Mexico, up from 28 a day earlier.

Brazil’s president said hunger is just as big a threat as COVID-19, again playing down the seriousness of the outbreak during a news conference.

Lagos, Africa’s largest city, ground to a halt on Tuesday as it and the Nigerian capital Abuja entered a two-week lockdown.

Several members of a well-known children’s choir are among the growing number of coronavirus cases in Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni late Tuesday announced that members of the Watoto Children’s Choir had been in quarantine after travelling abroad. The 11 people affected make up one-fourth of the East African nation’s 44 virus cases. Nearly all of Africa’s 54 countries now have the virus.

A guide to the different kinds of masks being used during this pandemic:

(CBC News)

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