COVID-19: Prime Minister addresses Canadians

By | March 31, 2020

The latest:

Ontario introduced strict new rules around how people can use outdoor spaces late Monday as the province tries to slow the spread of COVID-19, hours after the prime minister unveiled new details about how a plan to subsidize salaries and support businesses will work.

Ontario issued an order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to close “all communal or shared, public or private, outdoor recreational amenities” in the province. The measure covers everything from beaches to playgrounds and off-leash dog parks.

The government of Ontario, which had already closed provincial parks and conservation areas, said in a statement that “green spaces in parks, trails, ravines and conservation areas that aren’t otherwise closed would remain open for walkthrough access” but reiterated that people moving through these spaces need to stay two metres apart.

The coronavirus outbreak, which began in China in late 2019 and has now spread to countries in all corners of the world, has stretched provincial health systems, strained protective gear supply systems and crippled many companies.

The federal government’s latest plan includes wage subsidies of up to 75 per cent for businesses — big and small — that see at least a 30 per cent revenue drop. The temporary subsidies are also available to non-profits, many of which have seen a surge in demand as people struggle to pay bills.

The prime minister urged businesses who could afford to cover the remaining 25 per cent to do so, and cautioned against trying to take advantage of a system meant to keep companies afloat during a time of crisis.

“If you have the means to pay the remaining 25 per cent that is not covered by the subsidy, do it,” Trudeau said. “And if you think this is a system you can game or take advantage of, don’t.”

Speaking after Trudeau’s update outside Rideau Cottage, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Thersa Tam, reiterated a call to do everything possible to protect the vulnerable.

Tam said public health teams are doing “everything we can” to increase testing capacity for the coronavirus. She said Canada has been improving but added “we can do better.”  The government is looking at a range of measures, including upping capacity at provincial labs and scrutinizing new potential testing methods.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, meanwhile, said Monday that Canada’s armed forces have 24,000 regular and reserve members ready to respond as needed.

The military, he said, could help with logistics, shipping or other needs that crop up amid the outbreak, including flooding or forest fires. 

Sajjan said the military had asked many members to self-isolate early in the outbreak to ensure they had healthy people if needed down the road. The defence minister said the military has prioritized the ability to be flexible in its response, with a particular emphasis on being able to serve people in the North.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said troops have been sequestered to stay as “healthy as possible” so they are ready to go if needed. The response is “scalable” depending on the nature of the problem, Vance said. 

WATCH | Vance talks about what the military can offer in a pandemic: 

Canada’s top military commander Gen. Jonathan Vance says the Canadian Armed Forces are prepared to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:01

The United States was poised Tuesday to overtake China’s reported virus death toll of 3,300. But experts say all numbers reported by governments and states in this pandemic are faulty in different ways, due to the lack of testing, mild virus cases that are missed, or the determination of some governments to try to seize and shape their pandemic narrative. China, for example, faced questions at the height of its outbreak as it changed the way it determined who was a confirmed case, and Iran faced questions about whether it was accurately reporting cases.

“This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard,” said Dr Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the western Pacific. “We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation.”

As of 6 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had 7,474 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, with 92 deaths. Provinces and territories reported 1,114 cases as resolved, though it’s important to note that data isn’t available in all areas. The numbers, which are updated at least daily by the provinces and territories, are not a complete picture, as they don’t account for people who haven’t been tested, those being investigated as a potential case and people still waiting to learn the results of their test.  

There have also been two reported COVID-19 related deaths of Canadians abroad — one in Brazil and one in Japan.

The novel coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which has been monitoring the outbreak and emerging research, says that the situation around COVID-19 changes daily, but describes the novel coronavirus as a “serious” health threat.

“The risk will vary between and within communities, but given the increasing number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is considered high.”

WATCH | The latest information on masks and who experts say should wear them: 

While public health officials tell Canadians not to wear masks unless they’re sick, other countries take a different approach, leading to confusion for some. 2:05

Read on for a look at what’s happening in your part of Canada, the U.S. and some of the hard-hit areas of the world.

Here’s what’s happening in the provinces

In British Columbia, the province recorded its first at-home death from COVID-19. “We are not through the storm yet. We have not yet reached our peak,” said top public health official Dr. Bonnie Henry as she stressed the need to stay home. Get the latest on what’s happening in B.C., including a call from some business owners for help with rent.

Alberta’s chief medical officer issued a call to “redouble our efforts to protect those who are most vulnerable” to COVID-19 amid rising case numbers in long-term care facilities. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday was “one of the hardest days yet” as Alberta reported five additional deaths, bringing the province’s total to eight. Get the latest on what’s happening in Alberta.

Saskatchewan reported its first two deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday. The province’s chief medical officer of health said both people were in their 70s but declined to offer additional details about the deaths, which he described as “a sad milestone in our fight against COVID-19.” Get the latest on what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

Manitoba is shutting down non-critical services starting Tuesday. That means things like hair salons and massage therapy offices won’t be allowed to open and restaurants will be cut back to offering take out. “This is not a sprint — this is a marathon. And we have to make the necessary steps now to make sure that we keep that slope on [COVID-19] down,” Premier Brian Pallister said. Get the latest on what’s happening in Manitoba.

WATCH | Patient who is recovering from COVID-19 gives wrenching account of experience:

Wife Tracy Segura said she wasn’t sure she’d see husband Rene again after he landed in the emergency ward alone in a Barrie, Ont., hospital. 15:03

A small Ontario community is reeling after a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care home proved deadly for many residents and led to more than two-dozen infections among staff. “I’ve been in practice for 32 years. I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff happen, but I don’t remember anything with this level of sadness,” medical director of the Bobcaygeon, Ont., facility Michelle Snarr said Monday. By Tuesday there were 13 deaths linked to the facility — 12 residents and one woman who volunteered there and whose husband lived at the facility. Get the latest on what’s happening in Ontario.

Quebec’s premier says the health system is holding up as the province passed 3,000 cases, with 35 deaths. Premier François Legault said the province still has capacity for “what will come next.”  Get the latest from Quebec, including new information on a Montreal homeless man who was thought to be positive for COVID-19, but was in fact not.

New Brunswick on Monday confirmed community transmission of COVID-19 in the province. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said there are now cases that can’t be linked back to travel. Premier Blaine Higgs said people ignoring the rules will face enforcement measures including thousands of dollars in fines and — in extreme cases — possible detention. Get the latest on what’s happening in N.B.

Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 lab has more than tripled its capacity to test for the new coronavirus.  Charles Heinstein, technical manager at the QEII Health Sciences Centre microbiology lab in Halifax, said the staff have moved to an assembly line approach. Get the latest from N.S.

P.E.I’s premier had tough words for people who aren’t following public health orders in the province, saying: “The time for education is over. The time for enforcement is now.” Dennis King said Islanders can expect to see fines being issued, and didn’t rule out jail time if people keep ignoring rules. Get the latest on what’s happening on P.E.I.

Newfoundland and Labrador has set up a 30-bed unit for COVID-19 patients. “It has a number of negative pressure rooms, which is part of the technology that helps us keep the patients and staff as safe as possible when we have highly infectious diseases,” David Diamond, president and CEO of Eastern Health, said of the setup at Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. Get the latest on what’s happening in N.L., including the story of a man staying in a prospector’s tent in his driveway for 14 days while his family lives inside.

Yukon has reported a fifth COVID-19 case after a “cluster” investigation, and the territory’s top health official says there may be more to come. In the Northwest Territories, where schools have been closed for the rest of the academic year, education officials said students should expect final grades even as they get fewer hours of schooling. Nunavut, meanwhile, has said people who violate a mandatory self-isolation order could face jail time. Get the latest from across Canada’s North, including the story of Yukon First Nations helping members who can’t pay bills.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

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

The U.S. death toll climbed past 3,000 on Monday, the deadliest day yet in the country’s mounting crisis, while New York cheered the arrival of a gleaming 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship as a sign of hope in the city’s desperate fight.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that federal social distancing guidelines might be toughened and travel restrictions with China and Europe would stay in place as he urged Americans to help fight the coronavirus with tough measures through April.

As the country grapples with the outbreak, at least six members of the U.S. Congress have announced that they have contracted the novel coronavirus, and more than 30 others are or were self-quarantining in hopes of limiting the spread of the pandemic.

The first U.S. military service member has died from the coronavirus, the Pentagon said on Monday, as it reported another sharp hike in the number of infected troops.

In New York, the epicentre of the American outbreak, Cuomo and health officials warned that the crisis unfolding there is just a preview of what other U.S. cities and towns will soon face. New York state’s death toll climbed by more than 250 people in a day to over 1,200, most of them in the city.

“We’ve lost over 1,000 New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “To me, we’re beyond staggering already.”

WATCH | New York, faced with growing outbreak, asks for help: 

Even as a U.S. navy hospital carrying 1,000 beds sails into New York City, the state pleads for more health-care workers and relief as hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 cases and deaths. 2:02

Even before the governor’s appeal, close to 80,000 former nurses, doctors and other professionals were stepping up to volunteer in New York, and a Navy hospital ship had arrived with 1,000 beds to relieve pressure on the city’s overwhelmed hospitals.

In California, officials put out a similar call for medical volunteers as coronavirus hospitalizations doubled over the last four days and the number of patients in intensive care tripled.

Here’s what’s happening in hard-hit Italy, Spain and around Europe

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 10 a.m. ET

Italy constructed a 200-bed intensive care field hospital at the Milan fairgrounds to help relieve the pressure on northern Italy’s overwhelmed health-care system. The hospital, an outpost of Milan’s Polyclinic hospital, was constructed in 10 days by 500 workers with the help of €21 million (roughly $33 million Cdn) in donations, nearly half of which came from Lombardy native and former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Officials said it’s a specialized wing, with a pharmacy, radiology wards and other specialized pavilions. They say it could be replicated in central and southern Italy. Late Monday, Lombardy accounted for 1,330 of Italy’s 3,981 ICU patients.

A mural dedicated to all Italian medical workers depicting a nurse cradling Italy and reading ‘To All Of You… Thank You!’ is seen on a wall of Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital last week in Bergamo, near Milan, Italy. (Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

Spain recorded on Tuesday 849 new coronavirus deaths, the highest number since the pandemic hit the southern European country, according to the health ministry. With both new infections and deaths up around 11 per cent each, to a total of 94,417 confirmed cases and 8,189 fatalities, Spain is seeing a slight rebound in the outbreak. That’s despite an overall timid slowdown in its spread for the past week, allowing authorities to focus on avoiding the collapse of the health system.

Intensive-care units in at least one third of Spain’s 17 regions were already at their capacity limit, while new beds are being added in hotels, exhibition halls and sports centres across the country. At least 14 per cent of those infected are much needed medical personnel. Many of them lack proper protective gear. The government also wants to cushion the social effects of a major economic slowdown. Spain is officially “hibernating,” with new measures halting all but essential economic activity coming into full force on Tuesday.

Taxi driver Nuria Castro Sebelon disinfects her car in Madrid on Monday during a national lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has hit Spain hard. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Poland‘s government is ramping up regulations in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus because too many people are failing to practice the required physical distancing and the number of infections is rising. In announcing the new measures Tuesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that too many people were seen out in public spaces on a weekend that saw warm, spring-like weather. The number of infections is still lower than in western Europe but is growing, with 2,132 infections and 31 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday.

Germany’s labour minister says he expects the number of people on a government-backed short-term work program to exceed the 1.4 million it reached during the financial crisis in 2009. The government has recently made it easier for companies to put workers on the program, which was credited with limiting job losses during the financial crisis and speeding the rebound. The federal labour agency picks up the expense of keeping workers who are working some or none of their usual hours on the payroll. Employees will receive at least 60-67 per cent of their net salary.

The death toll in England from the coronavirus outbreak rose 29 per cent to 1,651, with one person as young as 19 dying without any underlying health conditions, the National Health Service said. “Patients were aged between 19 and 98 years old and all but 28 patients (aged between 19 and 91 years old) had underlying health conditions,” it said. Scotland said 60 people had died as of Tuesday. Wales said 69 people had died. Northern Ireland said its toll was 28.

Belgian authorities say a 12-year-old girl has died of the coronavirus, by far the youngest person among the more than 700 victims in the country. Announcing the news Tuesday, national crisis centre coronavirus spokesperson Emmanuel Andre said it is “an emotionally difficult moment, because it involves a child, and it has also upset the medical and scientific community.”

“We are thinking of her family and friends. It is an event that is very rare, but one which upsets us greatly.” No details about the girl were provided. Andre said that 98 people had died from the disease over the last 24 hours, bringing the total toll to 705 in a country of around 11.5 million people. More than 12,705 cases have been confirmed in total so .far

Here’s a look at what’s happening in hard-hit China, South Korea, Iran and some other areas of the world

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 8 a.m. ET

The epidemic is “far from over” in the Asia-Pacific region, and the current measures are merely buying time for countries to prepare for large-scale community transmissions, a WHO official said on Tuesday. 

Chinese officials say the coronavirus epidemic isn’t over in their country and that daunting challenges remain. Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Tuesday that authorities need to make sure that infected people arriving from abroad don’t spread the disease and start new outbreaks. China’s national health commission on Monday reported 48 new cases, saying they were all imported. It reported one new death in Hubei province.

She hit back at U.S. criticism of her country’s handling of the epidemic, saying that China and the U.S. should work together to fight it. “We also hope that some U.S. officials can follow through in the spirit of the two heads of states’ call and create more favourable conditions for the two countries to co-operate in the fight against the disease,” she said. The two nations’ leaders talked late last week. Hua noted that some local Chinese governments and companies have provided virus-related medical supplies to the United States, even as the demand for those supplies remains high in China.

Tokyo recorded more than 70 new infections on Tuesday for its highest tally in a single day, as pressure built on Japan’s prime minister to order a lockdown.

A vendor serves a customer at her stall at a wet market in Las Pinas, in Manila, through a plastic cover to enforce physical distancing on Monday. (Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

Iran’s death toll from coronavirus has reached 2,898, with 141 deaths in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesperson Kianush Jahanpur told state TV on Tuesday, noting that the total number of infections has jumped to 44,606. “In the past 24 hours, there have been 3,111 new cases of infected people. Unfortunately, 3,703 of the infected people are in a critical condition,” Jahanpur said. At a meeting broadcast live, Rouhani called on Iranians to avoid public places.

The government has banned inter-city travel and warned of a potential surge in coronavirus cases because many Iranians defied calls to cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20. But it has so far stopped short of imposing a lockdown on Iranian cities.

The Philippine government is studying the possibility of deploying ships that can serve as “floating quarantine hospitals” for people infected by the coronavirus once leading hospitals are filled to capacity. The government says in a report to Congress that ships could be fitted with medical equipment and deployed anywhere in the archipelago. At least six private metropolitan Manila hospitals have announced they were full and can no longer accept COVID-19 patients.

Shortages of protective gear in India are forcing some doctors to use raincoats and motorbike helmets while fighting the virus, which has the whole country in a 21-day lockdown. India has 1,200 confirmed cases of the coronavirus across the country, including 32 deaths, a quarter of which have been linked to a religious gathering. The overall number of known cases in India is small compared with the United States, Italy and China, but health experts say India could be weeks away from a huge surge that could overwhelm its already strained public health system.

People stand apart in a line to receive free food being distributed on a street during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus in New Delhi on Monday. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

South Korea has pushed back its national college exam by two weeks to Dec. 3 following a delay in school years amid the coronavirus outbreak. Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae’s announcement on Tuesday came hours after Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun revealed a government decision to keep schools shut while they launch unprecedented online classes beginning next week. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 125 new cases on Monday, with a total reported number of 9,786.

South Africa’s president on Monday night announced that the country, which has the most cases in Africa with 1,326, will launch a mass screening and testing program with about 10,000 field workers going door-to-door. And, Uganda and Botswana are the latest countries to impose a lockdown in an effort to prevent the virus’s spread. Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases are now above 5,000. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 47 of the continent’s 54 countries now have cases, with 5,255 in all. That includes 173 deaths. But shortages of testing materials mean the real number of cases could be higher.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said there can be no more quarantine measures imposed on the country than those already in place because jobs are being destroyed and the poor are suffering disproportionately.

Mexico declared a health emergency on Monday and issued further restrictions.

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