Coronavirus: Here’s what’s happening in Canada and around the world on March 22

By | March 21, 2020

The latest:

The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has leapt by 793 to 4,825, officials said on Saturday, an increase of 19.6 per cent — by far the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago.

On Thursday, Italy overtook China as the country to register most deaths from the highly contagious virus.

The total number of cases in Italy rose to 53,578 from a previous 47,021, an increase of 13.9 per cent, the Civil Protection Agency said.

The hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy remains in a critical situation, with 3,095 deaths and 25,515 cases.

Of those originally infected nationwide, 6,072 had fully recovered on Saturday compared to 5,129 the day before. There were 2,857 people in intensive care against a previous 2,655.

Coffins are unloaded at a cemetery from a military convoy in Ferrara, Italy, on Saturday. (Massimo Paolone/LaPresse via AP)

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said he is tightening the country’s lockdown, shutting down all production facilities except those that are “necessary, crucial, indispensable to guarantee essential goods” for the country. Conte said Italy is living through “its gravest crisis since World War II.”

Conte said while it’s not easy to renounce habits, that sacrifice pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by other citizens, ranging from doctors and nurses to supermarket clerks and security forces.

Local authorities in Italy’s northern regions have been pleading with the national government to enact ever stricter measures. The most hard-hit region, Lombardy, accounts for more than 60 per cent of Italy’s rapidly surging death toll.

Italy’s economy has been stagnant for several years, and some in the country were reluctant to shut down industry, in a move that would deepen Italy’s economic crisis.

Red Cross volunteers bring food and disinfectants to homeless at Vittorio square in Rome on Saturday. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

In North America, the longest undefended border between two countries is now closed to non-essential traffic, such as tourists and people looking to do some shopping, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.  The new normal at Canada-U.S. border crossings went into effect at midnight.

Under the bilateral agreement, truckers and workers essential to maintaining supply lines are exempt from the travel order. Also exempt are health professionals and others who work on one side of the border but live on the other. Students who hold valid visas, temporary foreign workers and anyone with valid work responsibilities may also cross.

The ban on non-essential cross-border travel will stay in place for at least 30 days. Ottawa has also agreed to bar all asylum seekers entering Canada through irregular crossings for the duration of the agreement. Washington has enacted a similar arrangement with Mexico.

A traffic sign is seen at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday. (Rob Gurdebeke/Canadian Press)

An Air Canada plane bringing a group of 444 Canadians home from Morocco amid the global coronavirus pandemic has  landed in Montreal, according to airline tracking data. 

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. For Canadians stranded in Morocco, they will have to pay for repatriation because it’s a commercial flight, operated by Air Canada — 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.

For more than 800 Canadians stuck in Peru, there is new pressure from the Peruvian government to leave this weekend. Peru, which shut down all borders and airports on March 16, said that as of Sunday, it will no longer support any repatriation efforts by foreign governments.

WATCH | ‘We want to go home,’ says Canadian stranded in Peru

Greg Bestavros, one of hundreds of Canadians stranded in Peru, urges the Canadian government to take swift action before Peruvian borders close. 8:00

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, addressing the nation on Saturday, said his government will be working with airlines to make similar agreements to bring home “as many Canadians who are stranded as possible.” He said he expects the government will help arrange other flights “potentially from Peru and Spain.”

In business, Air Canada is laying off more than 5,100 flight attendants as the airline cuts routes and parks planes due to COVID-19, a union official said on Friday. 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.”

WATCH | Will Canada’s $82-billion COVID-19 aid package be enough?

The CBC News business panel takes a close look at the details of the Canadian government’s $82-billion bailout package and how it compares to what’s been unveiled in the U.S. and U.K. 13:23

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.

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.

WATCH | A Canadian doctor urges a mandatory lockdown from coast to coast:

Dr. Michael Warner is the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital and says Canada should have enforced a mandatory lockdown from coast to coast a while ago. 6:25

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.

People with underlying health issues may also have an increased likelihood for developing serious complications. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says 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.

In total, Canada had 1,331 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases as of Saturday evening, with 19 deaths and 16 recovered cases.  

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

B.C. says it has freed up thousands of acute care hospital beds. The government said the beds were made available after it ordered the cancellations of non-urgent elective surgeries. B.C. also ordered all restaurants and bars to stop dine-in services; nightclubs, playgrounds and libraries to close; and banned gatherings of more than 50 people. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Ontario says it’s launching a website to help businesses retool and shift their focus to producing much-needed medical equipment. Meanwhile, Toronto’s University Health Network says it will no longer allow visitors with exceptions for compassionate grounds and for special safety needs. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

Quebec’s provincial police have begun a “special operation” to assist the Health Ministry in enforcing the Public Health Act.  “As of now, it’s clear we’re going to constrain the people who do not respect the guidelines,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director. On Friday a person who tested positive for COVID-19 was arrested in Quebec City for defying quarantine orders. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

Emergency workers wearing protective gear are shown at Eva Lavaltrie seniors’ residence in Lavaltrie, Que., on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Nurses at three Edmonton clinics have refused to swab patients for COVID-19 because they say aren’t being provided with N95 face masks by Alberta Health Services. Roughly 30 nurses say “they need N95 to properly protect themselves,” according to their union, but AHS says they’re not required in order to perform the tests. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

Saskatchewan says only essential health-care workers are exempt from self-isolation restrictions. Premier Scott Moe said on Friday he was concerned some individuals who recently travelled outside of Canada were not respecting self-isolation requirements. As a result, those who violate the rules could be subject to a $2,000 fine. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

Winnipeg opened its first drive-thru community screening site, marking the third such drive-thru location in Manitoba. There are 11 testing locations in total in the province. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

A drive-thru COVID-19 test site is seen in Winnipeg on Saturday. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Retired physicians in New Brunswick have offered their services should they be required. The offer comes as Premier Blaine Higgs says health officials believe the peak of viral infections could still be up to five weeks away. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Dentists in Nova Scotia can no longer practise in their offices unless they deem it to be an emergency. The province ordered the restriction on Saturday under the Health Protection Act. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.

Newfoundland and Labrador opened test centres with Western and Eastern Health on Saturday. The province’s health authority says the clinics will operate seven days a week, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with nurses collecting samples while individuals remain in their vehicles. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

Nurses collect samples at Eastern Health’s drive-thru testing centre at St. Teresa’s School in St. John’s. (Eastern Health/Submitted)

P.E.I. is asking people to self-isolate if they’ve travelled off-island within Canada. The province will also be implementing enhanced screening measures at the Confederation Bridge, the Charlottetown airport and the ferry in Souris. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

In the Northwest Territories, the chief public health officer confirmed the territory’s first case on Saturday. The person had travelled to British Columbia and Alberta, according a statement, and then returned home to Yellowknife.

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

  • British Columbia: 424 confirmed cases, including six recovered and 10 deaths.
  • Ontario: 377 confirmed cases, including six recovered and three deaths.
  • Alberta: 226 confirmed cases, including three recovered and one death.
  • Quebec: 181 confirmed cases, including one recovered and five deaths.
  • Saskatchewan: 44 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Manitoba: 19 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • New Brunswick: 17 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Nova Scotia: 21 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Prince Edward Island: Two cases the province lists as positive.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Six confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Northwest Territories: one confirmed case.
  • Repatriated Canadians: 13 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 8:45 p.m. ET

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife tested negative for the virus, his spokesperson said Saturday night, after a member of his staff tested positive.

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence walks to the podium as President Donald Trump looks on during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Saturday. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order on Saturday mandating that all non-essential retail businesses close stores and almost all state residents stay home. The order follows similar moves by Illinois, New York and California.

The sweeping state-by-state public health restrictions, unprecedented in breadth and scope, added to the distance being experienced among ordinary Americans even as the pandemic seemed to close in on the highest levels of power in the nation’s capital.

New York Gov. 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, which has seen more than 11,000 cases and 56 deaths. He acted after California all but confined its 40 million residents to their homes.

WATCH | New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is worried about the lack of hospital ventilators:

‘The numbers are going up at such a rate, it’s more than double the capacity of the hospital system,’ Gov. Andrew Cuomo says.  1:58

Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Saturday scrambled to complete a deal on a $1 trillion-plus bill aimed at stemming the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout for workers, industries and small businesses.

But after a second day of marathon closed-door negotiations, there was no sign of an overarching deal between negotiators

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid coronavirus diagnostic test, with a detection time of about 45 minutes. The test’s developer, California-based molecular diagnostics company Cepheid, said on Saturday it had received an emergency use authorization from the FDA for the test, which will be used primarily in hospitals and emergency rooms. The company plans to begin shipping it to hospitals next week, it said.

The total number of known U.S. coronavirus cases has risen exponentially in recent days, climbing past 19,500 in a surge that health officials attributed in large part to an increase in diagnostic testing.

Here’s what’s happening in Europe

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

Spain has recorded almost 5,000 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours as it climbed into third place in the global ranking of infections behind China and Italy.

Health authorities said Saturday that virus infections have reached 24,926, up from 19,980 the day before. Total deaths were 1,326, up from 1,002 on Friday. Over 1,600 patients are in intensive care units that authorities admit are at their limits. Madrid is the hardest hit region with almost 9,000 infections.

Spain is approaching one week of tight restrictions on free movement and the closure of most shops as hospitals and nursing homes buckle under the burden of the virus outbreak. But authorities admit that they expect infections to continue to rise before the measures can hopefully reverse the trend.

Police officers wearing face masks stand guard at a checkpoint as authorities control public movements in Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday. (Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press)

In Cyprus, a police spokesperson says authorities have turned away a boat carrying around 100 migrants, citing government directives banning the entry of foreign nationals.

France reported 78 new deaths on Friday, taking the total to 450, an increase of 21 per cent. The Alsace region has been struggling with a surge of infections overwhelming hospitals, prompting the neighbouring southwestern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg to offer to take in some of its patients.

In Germany, the number of confirmed cases rose above 20,000, with 70 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Germany’s official Robert Koch Institute listed 16,662 case and 47 deaths, but officials have acknowledged that their count lags behind figures provided by regional health authorities.

Some German states, such as Bavaria, have stepped up measures to contain the outbreak by further restricting the reasons people can leave their homes. That’s prompted some criticism about stricter curfew measures.

People protective suits are seen at the entrance of the University Hospital in Magdeburg, eastern Germany, on Saturday. (Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/dpa via AP)

Britain still lags behind Italy, Spain and France in the spread of the virus, but the country’s overstretched health system is creaking.

The state-funded National Health Service has about 4,000 critical-care beds and some 5,000 ventilators, and officials say that’s far fewer than will be needed as the number of cases spikes in the coming weeks. Britain, which has recorded more than 5,000 confirmed cases and 233 deaths, has already asked 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work.

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

People form a long queue as they wait to enter a wholesaler supermarket in Coventry, England, early Saturday. The U.K. government has ordered the closure of public gathering places like restaurants, pubs, gyms and leisure centres in an effort to control the spread of coronavirus. (Jacob King /Press Assocation/The Associated Press)

Here’s what’s happening in Asia

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

In China, flights coming into Beijing are being rerouted to three other cities as the country tries to prevent fresh outbreaks started by infected people arriving from abroad.

The state-owned China Daily said that passengers and crew will be screened on arrival. Confirmed cases will be sent to local hospitals, and close contacts to quarantine facilities in the cities, the English-language newspaper reported. Other passengers will then continue to Beijing.

China reported Sunday local that it saw six new deaths and 45 imported cases in the previous 24-hour period. 

Restrictions on movement are being eased gradually in China as it tries to restart the economy without bringing back the disease.

WATCH | China sees imported cases rise:

China is celebrating its defeat of the coronavirus outbreak while diligently monitoring for cases being brought into the country, which are on the rise. 1:50

Vietnam will bar entry for all foreigners starting Sunday, except for those on “diplomatic and special purposes,” the government said on Saturday, as the country’s cases rose to 94 with no deaths. Those allowed to enter will be subject to quarantine and will need approval from the ministries of police, health and foreign affairs.

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 Japan, organizers for the Tokyo Olympics and IOC President Thomas Bach say the games will open July 24 at the $1.4 billion US national stadium in Tokyo.

But athletes are complaining: They can’t train; qualifying events have been cancelled; the chaos is sure to favour some over others.

Giant questions remain about bringing 11,000 athletes from 200 countries together in four months. Bach has said repeatedly it’s too early to announce a final decision.

A group of students from Uruguay pose for a picture on the Olympic Rings set outside the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

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.

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

  • Canadian consumers are still snapping up supplies, leaving some store shelves empty, despite efforts to restock. Some grocery stores have implemented limits on essential items while others have not. The Retail Council of Canada, an industry group that represents big chains like Loblaw, Sobeys and Walmart, says it doesn’t plan to advocate for any rationing or limits per person.
  • El Salvador declared a 30-day curfews in response to the virus.  

  • Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak rose on Saturday by more than 100 to 1,556, and the total number of people infected now exceeds 20,000, a health ministry official said.

  • Africa’s cases of the coronavirus rose above 1,000 on Saturday. Angola and Uganda announced their first cases; Congo and Ghana reported their first deaths; and Burkina Faso reported two new ones — that country now has the most COVID-19 deaths of any country in sub-Saharan Africa. Many African countries have already shut their borders, closed schools and universities and barred large public gatherings.

  • Brazil is the hardest-hit country in Latin America, with the health ministry saying on Saturday 18 people have now died and over 1,100 are infected. The state of Sao Paulo alone has recorded 15 deaths, six of them reported on Saturday. That led Sao Paulo state Gov. Joao Doria to announce a two-week, statewide partial shutdown — a first in Brazil. Bars, restaurants and non-essential shops may not open, but people will be allowed to go outside.

  • 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.

  • Turkey announced 12 more deaths, bringing the death toll to 21. Ankara took its strictest measures so far Saturday, banning people over 65 and those with chronic health problems from leaving their homes. The interior ministry ordered all restaurants shut to customers except for deliveries and pickups. Earlier, the ministry banned picnics and barbecues as Turkish citizens ignored warnings to remain at home.

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