Coronavirus: Here’s what’s happening in Canada and around the world on March 20

By | March 20, 2020

The latest:

Border restrictions between the United States and Canada aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 came into effect across the country at midnight ET on Friday while political leaders in both countries have continued to ramp up their response to the pandemic. Manitoba declared a state of emergency on Friday, while New York, California and Illinois all introduced sweeping restrictions, limiting mobility and business operations for millions of residents.

U.S. President Donald Trump said travel restrictions — which also apply to the U.S.-Mexico border — will “reduce the incentive for a mass global migration” and disallow “non-essential” border-crossing. 

Ottawa also announced it has reached a reciprocal agreement with Washington to turn back irregular migrants who attempt to cross anywhere along the border — a move described as unprecedented.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the coming border restrictions in a Friday morning briefing, and went on to outline an industrial strategy to allow companies already making sanitizers, masks and other equipment to scale up quickly, while mobilizing others to shift production to items that are in high demand. The news comes on the same day that cases in Canada grew beyond 1,000, for a total of 1,087. There were 214 new cases on Friday, the most in one day in Canada since the pandemic was declared on March 11. 

A sign notifying drivers of the temporary border closure is seen on the 401 highway in Ajax, Ont., on Friday. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Speaking outside his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, where he is in voluntary quarantine after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus, Trudeau said that his government is in touch with major airlines about Canadians stranded abroad. He said details would come in the days ahead, but added that a repatriation flight for travellers stuck in Morocco is expected to go ahead this weekend.

The repatriated travellers will need to pay for the flights, which will be co-ordinated through commercial airlines. Global Affairs Canada is offering up to a $5,000 loan to Canadians stuck abroad, and that money can be used to pay for these flights. The first area of focus will be Morocco and Peru, where governments have implemented highly restrictive border controls.

“These are historic times in which we need to do everything we can to support Canadians,” said Trudeau.

The government has urged all Canadians who are abroad to return home quickly, but some have struggled to find flights as they face border restrictions and limited travel options as airlines cut capacity. On Friday, Air Canada announced they are operating a special flight for Canadians stranded in Morocco, which will leave from Casablanca on Saturday. Passengers will have to pay as it’s a commercial flight — not a rescue flight chartered by the Canadian government. In India, Canadians are scrambling to get home as India prepares to ban all incoming international flights for a week. 

Earlier in the day, a Canadian in Japan died from complications linked to COVID-19, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said, while Trudeau outlined a strategy to help manufacturers rapidly ramp up production of medical supplies.

Champagne didn’t provide any specifics about the individual or their circumstances.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the person was a former passenger of the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

A number of Canadians who were infected with the coronavirus while aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship have been in Japanese health facilities. The ship was placed under quarantine in early February after it was revealed that a passenger who had previously disembarked was infected with the coronavirus.

WATCH | ‘A lot of stuff is by chance,’ says Canadian trying to get out of Morocco:

Despite a stressful few days trying to leave Morocco, Canadian Keenan Orrange is grateful for the help he has received and expects to be back in Canada soon. 4:37

Trudeau’s statement came after a union official said Air Canada is laying off more than 5,000 flight attendants as it deals with a stark drop in the number of flights it operates, calling the move “difficult but necessary.” The airline had already said it plans to “gradually suspend the majority of its international and U.S. transborder flights” by March 31.

Wesley Lesosky, president of CUPE’s Air Canada component, said he has “never seen layoffs like this.”

WestJet has said it is suspending international travel as of Sunday for a 30-day period. Swoop, the discount carrier owned by WestJet Airlines, will do the same, and said it is now working to bring home more than 2,300 Swoop passengers who are still outside of Canada. 

Sunwing Airlines said it expects to have all of its customers, most of whom are at Mexican or Caribbean resorts, back home by Monday. Sunwing is also offering vacant seats on its repatriation flights free of charge to any Canadians stranded in sun-kissed parts of the hemisphere, including non-Sunwing customers.

Starbucks is temporarily reducing service in both Canada and the United States as well, closing cafes and moving to drive-thru and delivery instead. Some exceptions will be made, such as locations in and around hospitals, and the closure doesn’t directly affect licensed stores. In a news release, Starbucks Canada president Lori Digulla said stores will remain closed for two weeks, while staff will continue to be paid for the next 30 days, whether they work or not.

Worldwide, the death toll from the coronavirus passed 10,000 and infections exceeded 255,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Italy, with its 60 million citizens, increased its death toll by 627 on Friday, to 4,032 lives lost to the virus. It is the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged in the country a month ago. On Thursday, Italy’s death toll surpassed that of China, a country with a population more than 20 times larger and where the outbreak first began. 

More than 86,000 people have recovered from the virus, mostly in China, but the pace is much slower than its spread. Recovery takes two weeks or so for mild cases, but can be up to six weeks for those that turn serious, according to the World Health Organization.

Though the illness is mild in most people, the elderly are particularly susceptible to serious symptoms. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead — 87 per cent — were over 70.

WATCH | More young people testing positive for coronavirus:

While seniors have been widely reported as the age group most vulnerable to the coronavirus, there have been a rising number of people under 65 falling ill. 2:06

For those over 70 and hospitalized with COVID-19, the mortality rate has been as high as one in five cases on average, said Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergencies program, speaking at the UN agency’s daily news briefing on Friday.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said health authorities are learning that although older people are hardest hit, younger people are not spared.

“Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalization,” he said. 

WATCH | WHO calls for ‘solidarity, solidarity, solidarity’:

The World Health Organization says solidarity is the key to defeating the coronavirus, and thanks the private sector for providing essential medical supplies. 4:00

“Today I have a message for young people: You’re not invincible. This virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you.”

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of WHO’s emergencies program said there are at least 20 vaccines in development. The first test of an experimental vaccine was administered to a healthy volunteer in Seattle, Wash., last Monday.

WATCH | Montreal hospitals launch global challenge to design new ventilator:

Two hospitals in Montreal are offering a $200,000 prize to design a new low-cost and easy-to-use ventilator to help with the COVID-19 outbreak.  7:58

People with underlying health issues may also have an increased likelihood for developing serious complications. Tam said Thursday that Indigenous people also face a higher risk because of health inequities, higher rates of underlying conditions and the difficulties that come with living in remote communities. 

Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and other areas of the world dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories

British Columbia announced 77 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 348. At the same time, the City of Vancouver said all playgrounds will shut down and all restaurants must stop any dine-in services by the end of Friday or face prosecution, as part of a host of new policies unveiled a day after the province declared a state of emergency. “The changes being announced today are major. They mean … many, many people will be laid off,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Ontario is launching an online portal for students who can’t go to class because of COVID-19. Doug Ford’s government said the program will include math and literacy material, in both English and French. The province saw 60 new cases reported Friday, pushing the provincial total past 300. It comes a day after officials said a man in his 50s with an underlying health condition, no recent travel history outside Canada or known contact with a COVID-19 case had died. The Milton, Ont., man’s death is the second that health officials in the province have linked to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott — who has faced increased questions over test availability, wait times for testing and hospital capacity — said Thursday the province has added more telehealth lines and is working on improving lab testing. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

Alberta’s credit rating was downgraded after a global credit agency said its budget is ‘no longer valid,’ and the province hasn’t done enough to respond to economic pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic. The day before, the province’s top doctor urged people to take the risks from COVID-19 seriously as the province reported its first death. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that an Edmonton man in his 60s died late Wednesday. The province is doing “all we can to fight the spread of the virus,” Hinshaw said. “But to do this, we will need everyone’s help.” Read more about what’s happening in Alberta, including information about how Alberta Health Services handled the case of a doctor who tested positive for COVID-19.

Police in the Quebec capital have arrested a COVID-19 patient who defied quarantine orders. The person was arrested while out for a stroll in Quebec City’s Limoilou neighbourhood. As the province tries to clamp down on COVID-19, some hotels are preparing to step up in case they are needed to house non-infected hospital patients to make space in the province’s health facilities. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

WATCH | Scenes from around the world as people applaud health-care workers:

Applause breaks out in places across the globe in appreciation of health-care workers fighting against the coronavirus. 0:45

Saskatchewan announced it will use daycare facilities inside schools to provide care for the children of health-care workers and other “essential” workers. The province, which as of Friday afternoon was reporting 26 confirmed and presumptive cases, has banned public gatherings of more than 50 people. But the chief medical officer of health wants people to avoid groups of more than five. The City of Regina declared its own state of emergency on Friday, while restaurants and bars in the province are being closed for dine-in service, and are now limited to pickup and delivery. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

Manitoba declared a state of emergency Friday to respond to the pandemic. The province, like many others, said Thursday it is reviewing its inventory of critical supplies like protective gear for health-care workers and ventilators. More ventilators are on the way, officials said, and while the supply of protective gear is solid for now, the province has said it will buy more. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba, which delivered a budget Thursday amid economic turmoil linked to the pandemic.

Staff are seen preparing food at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank in Burnaby, B.C., on Wednesday. The federal government has promised funding for people who are out of work, but there’s still concern about how many families impacted by the coronavirus will make ends meet amid economic turmoil. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

In New Brunswick, no new cases were announced for the second day in a row, a day after the province declared a state of emergency. Still, chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said two days in a row without any new cases “doesn’t mean a whole lot” due to the incubation period of the virus. Russell said she expects to see more cases in the coming days, noting returning travellers may not be exhibiting any symptoms yet. On the same day, Premier Blaine Higgs said the provincial budget is already obsolete due to COVID-19’s economic fallout. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Health officials in Nova Scotia reported one new presumptive COVID-19 case on Friday. The new case comes after the province said it is allocating $1 million to help the province’s food banks amid growing economic damage caused by COVID-19. The province, which banned evictions of vulnerable people during the crisis, has said more supports will be rolled out in the days ahead. Alcohol sales in the province have soared amid panic buying, while those working in addiction services are planning ahead in case of liquor store closures. They are concerned those going through alcohol withdrawal will end up in hospital, draining health-care resources away from the pandemic. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.

The top doctor in P.E.I. is urging people to respect self-isolation and social distancing protocols, saying the province wants to avoid the stark situations seen in places like Italy. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister said Friday designated COVID-19 test sites are coming — but will be by appointment only. The news comes after a top education official in Newfoundland and Labrador says all students between kindergarten and Grade 9 will pass to the next grade, “no matter what time we get back.” Tony Stack, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said the plan for high school students is not yet finalized. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

There are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Canada’s North, but efforts are underway to ensure governments are prepared. Yukon is setting up a respiratory assessment centre, and a First Nation community in the Northwest Territories declared a state of emergency in a bid to protect its elders. Read more about what’s happening in the North.

Here’s a look at the number of cases — including deaths and recoveries — by province:

  • British Columbia: 348 confirmed cases, including five recovered and eight deaths.
  • Ontario: 318 confirmed cases, including five recovered and two deaths.
  • Alberta: 195 confirmed cases, including three recovered and one death.
  • Quebec: 139 confirmed cases, including one recovered and one death.
  • Saskatchewan: 26 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Manitoba: 17 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • New Brunswick: 11 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Nova Scotia: 15 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Prince Edward Island: Two cases the province lists as positive.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Four confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Repatriated Canadians: 12 confirmed cases.

Presumptive cases are individuals who have tested positive, but still await confirmation with the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. Not all provinces are listing figures on those who have recovered. The recent COVID-19 related death in Japan is not currently included in the province-by-province tally of cases.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 10:45 p.m. ET

A member of U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence’s office has tested positive for the coronavirus. Pence is leading the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

However, Pence’s press secretary says neither the vice-president nor Trump has had close contact with the infected person.

Earlier in the day, Illinois joined both New York and California in imposing strict new measures to limit residents’ movement, the most sweeping efforts yet to contain the coronavirus.

“To avoid the loss of tens of thousands of lives, we must order an immediate shelter-in-place,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that starting Sunday, all workers in non-essential businesses must stay home as much as possible and all gatherings of any size will be banned in the state of more than 19 million people. He acted after California all but confined its 40 million residents to their homes.

Watch: NYC’s empty streets

The CBC’s Steven D’Souza shows how New York City’s once-bustling streets have quietened amid the coronavirus pandemic 2:08

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Friday that the U.S. tax filing day will be extended from April 15 to July 15.  He encouraged all taxpayers who may have refunds to file now.

U.S. senators from both parties were expected to meet on Friday along with Trump administration officials to try to devise a rescue plan for an economy reeling from the coronavirus, after Republicans made a $1 trillion US opening bid.

The Republican package unveiled on Thursday includes cheques of up to $1,200 for many Americans, and hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for small businesses and industries. Students would be allowed to defer payments on student loans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the package and then invited Democrats to join talks on Friday, along with Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow. 

McConnell vowed the Senate would not adjourn until it had taken action and sent a measure to the Democrat-led House of Representatives, but any vote was probably days away.

Democrats said they were ready to talk, but were also wary, noting they had not been involved in drafting the plan. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement with his fellow Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that his party wants to see provisions that protect workers.

The package is the third taken up by Congress since the coronavirus erupted in the United States. The highly contagious respiratory disease had infected 12,259 people in the country and killed 200 as of Thursday night. It has shut schools, businesses and wide swaths of American life, and sent the stock market into a tailspin.

Newlyweds Diego Fernandes, 46 and Deni Salgado, 30, kiss through protective face masks at a wedding ceremony on Friday with only witnesses and no guests, as public gatherings are banned as part of Italy’s lockdown measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease COVID-19 in Naples, Italy. (Ciro De Luca/Reuters)

Congress passed an $8.3-billion US measure earlier this month to combat the coronavirus outbreak and develop vaccines. On Wednesday, lawmakers approved and Trump signed a $105-billion-plus plan to limit the damage through free testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending.

The bill introducing the latest measures includes $300 billion for small businesses, and $208 billion in loans for distressed industries, including $50 billion for passenger airlines and $8 billion for cargo air carriers.

United Airlines said it would temporarily suspend all flights to Canada starting April 1.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials were expected to announce new restrictions on the border with Mexico on Friday.

Here’s what’s happening in Europe

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 11:30 a.m. ET

Italy recorded 627 deaths on Friday, an increase of about 18 per cent. Mayors of many Italian towns are asking for more stringent controls on citizens’ movements to help contain surging coronavirus infections. Despite a national lockdown that strictly limits conditions under which people are allowed to leave their homes, there have been many violations. Authorities say as of Friday morning, more than 53,000 summons have been issued for violations.

State radio said Friday that Premier Giuseppe Conte might announce tighter measures nationwide. On Thursday, Italy’s deaths from the virus surpassed those in China, where the outbreak began. With Friday’s increase, deaths in Italy stand at 4,032. 

In Spain, the health minister said the army will help set up a field hospital of 5,500 beds and much-needed intensive care units inside a convention centre in Madrid. Health workers also have begun outfitting Madrid hotels as makeshift wards for patients considered not in need of intensive care. Madrid has more than 7,000 cases of coronavirus.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron urged worried employees to keep working in supermarkets, production sites and other key businesses amid tight restrictions on movement imposed to fight the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Fast track service is offered for the elderly and vunerable on Friday in Aylesbury in England. Retailers in Canada have also stepped up efforts to offer seniors and people with disabilities dedicated shopping hours. (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

“We need to keep the country running,” Macron said.Businesses allowed to remain open are required to apply strict rules about social distancing, washing hands and disinfection. French health authorities have reported almost 11,000 cases of people infected with the virus, including 372 who have died.

Britain is asking 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work to help fight the coronavirus. The government is sending letters to 50,000 former nurses and 15,000 retired doctors. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said volunteers would be given training over the next few weeks before being allocated to hospitals. The U.K. has 3,269 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 144 people have died.

The British government also announced it will cover a massive share of private sector wages to discourage bosses from firing staff in an unprecedented move to prop up the economy through the coronavirus shutdown.

“Today I can announce that for the first time in our history, the government is going to step in and help to pay people’s wages,” Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said on Friday.

Watch: U.K. pubs last call before indefinite shutdown

U.K. government orders closure of pubs, restaurants and other gathering places to combat COVID-19 1:10

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closure of pubs, restaurants, gyms, nightclubs and other businesses from Friday to slow the spread of the virus.

The U.K. government will allow businesses to hold on to 30 billion pounds of value-added tax, which they would normally pass on to tax authorities over the next three months, in order to help their cash flow. Finance minister Rishi Sunak said the deferred tax would not be payable until the end of the financial year in March 2021.

The German state of Bavaria will impose general restrictions on going outside for two weeks in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, state premier Markus Soeder said on Friday. “It’s not easy to take these decisions,” Soeder said. “We take these decisions according to the best of our knowledge and conscience. There will be a Bavaria after corona, but it will be a stronger one if we don’t look away.”

Here’s what’s happening in Asia

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 9:30 p.m. ET

Malaysia will mobilize its army, starting Sunday, to help enforce curbs on movement aimed at reining in the coronavirus, the government said on Friday. Since Wednesday, Malaysia has closed its borders, schools and non-essential businesses for two weeks and ordered people to limit going outside.

In Thailand, an outbreak of the virus has been traced to a boxing event that took place at the beginning of March. There are now 72 cases of COVID-19 from three boxing stadiums since the first cluster of transmission was reported from one match at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok held on March 6. Since those clusters were reported, the number of confirmed cases in Thailand has jumped to 322, doubling the number within a week.

In Indonesia, Jakarta, the Istiqlal grand mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, has cancelled mass prayers for the next two weeks to avoid spreading the virus. Indonesia has had 25 deaths from COVID-19 and has 309 cases.

The foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan held a video conference on Friday to discuss co-operation on the coronavirus pandemic amid growing concern over the number of infected people arriving in their countries from overseas.

Though the epidemic erupted in China in December, and South Korea at one stage had the second-most infections, both subsequently succeeded in stifling domestic transmission of the virus.

South Korea reported 147 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new cases bring the country’s total to 8,799.

The country’s election commission says all voters will be required to wear masks and use disposable gloves at ballot booths during the April 15 parliamentary elections.

Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, offered a ray of hope with no new infections reported for a second day in a row and only 39 cases reported nationwide — all of them brought from outside the country, the government said. 

The Olympic flame arrived at a Japanese air defence force base on Friday, but there were no spectators at the ceremony. Organizers have repeatedly said the Games will go ahead as planned from July 24 to Aug. 9, despite expectations that some 600,000 spectators and athletes would descend on Tokyo.

Japan has had 963 domestically transmitted cases and 33 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK. That does not include more than 700 cases and seven deaths from a cruise ship moored near Tokyo last month.

Here’s a look at some other developments around COVID-19

Australia has moved to seal off its borders and announced unprecedented bans on entry for non-residents in the hope of stemming the rise of coronavirus infections. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Some Canadians hoping to defer mortgage payments because of the economic impact of COVID-19 are having a hard time getting answers from Canada’s big banks. The country’s six big banks have said they would work with “small business banking customers on a case-by-case basis to provide flexible solutions” to help people cope. But one customer said, when he called, the bank “had no criteria for what they’re looking for” in order to grant a deferral. Read more about what’s happening in the business world, including the latest from jittery stock markets.
  • Iran has announced 149 more fatalities from the novel coronavirus, bringing its death toll to 1,433 amid nearly 20,000 confirmed cases. Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East, and has been widely criticized for its slow response. The country’s leaders struck an upbeat tone earlier Friday, issuing messages in honour of the Persian new year in which they vowed to overcome the pandemic.

  • South Africa announced coronavirus cases jumped to 202, the most in the sub-Saharan region, and the country’s largest airport announced that foreigners would not be allowed to disembark. Another African nation announced its first case, Cape Verde. Thirty-seven countries on the continent now have cases, with a total now well above 800.

  • Brazil is the hardest-hit country in Latin America, with confirmed cases jumping by over 280 on Friday to 904, with 11 deaths total. Several countries in Latin America are among the least prepared in the world for a pandemic, with health-care systems already stretched thin. Peruvian Minister of Defence Walter Martos previously told local America TV that the nation has less than 400 respirators available. “It’s not a lot,” he said. “Really, we don’t have the infrastructure that developed nations do.”

  • Australia has ratcheted up its social distancing regulations to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, demanding indoor venues provide at least four square metres of space per person. The space constraint announced Friday follows a ban on Wednesday of non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, including weddings and restaurants. Gatherings considered essential include schools, supermarkets and workplaces, which are exempt. Australia has also tightened regulations on travel to and from remote Indigenous communities in a bid to spare them COVID-19 outbreaks.

  • Netflix is launching a $100M US relief fund for workers in the creative community as the film and television industry suffers. The fund will be distributed to “third parties and nonprofits providing emergency relief to out-of-work crew and cast in the countries where we have a large production base,” according to a statement. That includes $1 million to be shared between the AFC, formerly known as the Actors Fund of Canada, and Fondation des Artistes in Canada.

  • Starting Tuesday, Cuba will stop allowing foreigners to enter the island, with the exception of residents. President Miguel Diaz-Canel made the announcement on state television late on Friday, saying that the order would stay in place for 30 days. As of Friday, the island nation had announced 16 cases of COVID-19 and one death, all in people who had traveled overseas or been in direct contact with a traveller. 

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