Lawmakers in both Canada and the United States are closer to getting money flowing to people affected by the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Canada, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez tweeted early Wednesday morning that the House had adopted the COVID-19 emergency support, which has $82 billion in aid to families and businesses impacted by the financial fallout from the new coronavirus
The Liberal government and opposition parties, particularly the Conservatives, had been wrangling over some of the measures included in the legislation — particularly around powers it granted to the government, which Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer described in a statement as an attempt at an “undemocratic power grab.”
A small group of senators was reviewing the bill Wednesday morning. If and when it passes and receives royal assent, there will likely be administrative hurdles as the government tries to get billions out the door to families and businesses through a variety of programs.
Speaking Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Canada has “enormous job loss” right now, adding that the government hopes and expects those losses will be temporary. Morneau was taking questions from senators, who wanted details on how the proposed programs, including those meant to help freelance workers, would actually work.
Morneau, in answer to a question, said the government needs to ensure that employment will be there for people when the pandemic is over. The current situation, he said, is “absolutely unprecedented.”
There were 15 senators on hand, scattered through the chamber to ensure there was enough physical distance between them.
In the U.S., Senate leaders from both parties and the White House came to an agreement on a $2 trillion aid package late Tuesday. The U.S. plan, which delivers aid for workers, businesses and the health-care system, came after days of arguing over how funding for large industries would be structured.
“We’re going to pass this legislation later today,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the deal was announced early on Wednesday. The Senate was due to convene at noon ET, though the exact timing of the vote was unclear. Trump supports the measure, the White House said.
Prince Charles tests positive for coronavirus
In the U.K., which recently implemented tougher stay-at-home measures to try to combat the virus, there’s another high-profile case: Prince Charles has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
A spokesperson for Clarence House said he has displayed mild symptoms but otherwise is in good health, and has been working from home. His wife Camilla has tested negative, the spokesperson said.
More than 425,000 people worldwide have been infected by the virus and almost 19,000 have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University case tracker. The novel coronavirus — which has been labelled SARS-CoV-2 — causes an illness called COVID-19, for which there is no proven vaccine or cure.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
It is the more severe cases — often requiring ventilators and specialized care — that threaten to overwhelm hospitals. Several countries are already running short of the critical equipment needed to treat patients and keep doctors and nurses safe. Doctors are dying in Italy, and Spain says 14 per cent of its infections are health-care workers.
In China, where the virus was first reported in late 2019, officials were loosening some restrictions in hard-hit Hubei province. The lockdown of Hubei’s capital Wuhan will be lifted on April 8, a milestone in China’s war against the epidemic as Beijing shifts its focus toward stemming imported cases and rebooting the economy.
In India, meanwhile, people woke up to quiet streets after the government announced broad restrictions to try to stop the virus from spreading.India had gradually expanded stay-at-home orders, banned international and domestic flights and suspended passenger service on its extensive rail system until March 31.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a three-week countrywide lockdown covering nearly one-fifth of the world’s population triggered panic buying on Tuesday night, but the situation eased after the government issued notices that essential services would be provided.
Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
Here’s what’s happening in Canada’s provinces and territories
As of 9:30 a.m. ET on Monday, there were 2,792 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 27 deaths and 186 cases listed by provinces as recovered or resolved. (Not all provinces are listing details about people who have recovered.) There has also been one COVID-19 related death of a Canadian reported abroad. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s top public health officer, said a passenger of the Diamond Princess cruise ship died in Japan.
For a look at what’s happening in your province and territory, check the CBC interactive case tracker.
In British Columbia, the top public health official says “no community” in the province is immune from the coronavirus. Dr. Bonnie Henry said there is circulation and risk across the province. Henry also said Tuesday that while case numbers are rising, she doesn’t believe B.C. is on the same trajectory as hard-hit Italy. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
Officials in Alberta reported a second COVID-19 related death on Tuesday — a woman in her 80s who was living in a Calgary nursing home. “In long-term care and other continuing-care facilities, where some of our most vulnerable citizens reside, we have taken additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta, where an effort is underway to get food to kids who can’t access school-based meal programs while classes are cancelled.
Saskatchewan is reporting its first known cases of community transmission of COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan, including details from an internal document from the Saskatchewan Health Authority that details concerns about how the province’s health-care system will cope with the coronavirus.
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Manitoba’s premier says the province is postponing non-urgent eviction hearings and freezing rent hikes for a period of weeks because of COVID-19 — but Brian Pallister said the measures “are not a rent holiday for the whole of the province.” Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
Ontario reported its eighth death related to the coronavirus on Tuesday, as recorded provincial case numbers saw their biggest daily jump since the outbreak began. Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the province is in a “critical” week as more people return home from abroad. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario, including details around a plan to temporarily lower hydro rates.
Quebec saw another jump in case numbers Tuesday, an increase that’s explained at least in part by extended testing programs, a health expert says. Premier François Legault reminded people that the measures adopted to slow the spread of the virus — the closure of non-essential businesses and schools — are temporary, saying “we are all in this together.” In Montreal, public health officials are investigating after a homeless man who tested positive for COVID-19 was found in a line for food outside a mission. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
New Brunswick is stepping up its testing to include people with symptoms — even if they don’t have a travel history. Premier Blaine Higgs has been calling for a “national” plan to deal with the virus. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer is urging people to be honest about travel history. “People will receive the care they need no matter what their health issue is, but if you do not tell the truth about travel history, we cannot be alerted about the potential for COVID-19 and you’re quite frankly putting other people at risk, especially health-care workers,” said Dr. Robert Strang. Read more about what’s happening in N.S., which has also stepped up testing capacity.
Prince Edward Island’s government is working with a grocery store to offer gift cards to people struggling amid the COVID-19 crisis. The temporary program will give $100 gift cards to workers who are waiting for employment insurance after being laid off. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical health officer is reminding people who are sick to stay home — and urging the healthy to do the same barring essential trips. “To those that are healthy and well, unless it is necessary for you to get groceries and other essentials, please stay home,” Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said. Read more about what’s happening in N.L, including details about a woman who was arrested under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act after ignoring an order to stay home.
Yellowknife’s largest school board says schools will be closed — for the rest of the academic year. In Nunavut, there’s concern about what the COVID-19 closures mean for food security for children and the homeless. Read more about what’s happening in Canada’s North.
Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.
From The Associated Press, updated at 6:20 a.m. ET
The White House and Senate leaders of both major political parties announced agreement early Wednesday on unprecedented emergency legislation creating a $2 trillion US pandemic response measure.
Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight, capping days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure. The deal still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are done,” Ueland said. “We have a deal.”
The economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367-billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
One of the last issues to close concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.
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At the White House on Tuesday, even as the public health crisis deepened, President Donald Trump expressed eagerness to nudge many people back to work in the coming weeks and held out a prospect, based more on hope than science, that the country could be returning to normal in less than a month.
“We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought,” Trump told a Fox News town hall. He said he’d like to have the country “opened up and just raring to go” by Easter, April 12. But in a White House briefing later, Trump said that “our decision will be based on hard facts and data.”
Medical professionals say social distancing needs to be stepped up, not relaxed, to slow the spread of infections. At the White House briefing, public health authorities said it was particularly important for people in the hard-hit New York City metropolitan area to quarantine themselves for 14 days and for those who have recently left the city to do the same.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said pointedly at the briefing: “No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed that the Trump administration send thousands of ventilators to New York City — which needs 30,000 of them, he said — and demanded that Trump use wartime authority to force manufacturers to produce them.
Here’s what’s happening in Europe
From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 9:30 a.m. ET
Spain registered an overnight jump of 738 deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday, pushing the death toll above that of China, where the disease originated, for the first time as the country struggles to cope with soaring numbers of infections.
With 3,434 fatalities, Spain now has the second-highest number of deaths globally after Italy’s 6,820, in an outbreak that has seen a Madrid skating rink turned into a makeshift morgue and dozens dead in overwhelmed nursing homes across the country. Spanish medical staff, who themselves account for thousands of infected cases, have taken out lawsuits against the government complaining of a lack of basic protective equipment like masks, scrubs and gloves.
Fatalities in Italy surged on Tuesday, dashing hopes the epidemic was easing after more encouraging numbers in the previous two days.
France’s death toll is much higher than the official tally, which only accounts for those dying in hospitals and does not include those dying at home or in retirement homes, the head of the hospitals federation said. France’s Scientific Council has recommended that France’s home confinement, which began one week ago, should last at least six weeks in total. The recommendation was voiced to French President Emmanuel Macron during a special expert meeting on Tuesday.
In the U.K., more than 170,000 people signed up to help the National Health Service, and Parliament is set to suspend sitting for at least four weeks.
In contrast to other European countries, Germany offered some hope that it has flattened the exponential spread of the virus, which has infected some 30,000 people. The death toll was relatively low at about 130, and Germany has even taken in patients from France and Italy for treatment.
Russia’s prime minister ordered provincial governors Wednesday to move more quickly to ready hospital beds for coronavirus patients as the outbreak has spread across the vast country. The government reported 658 cases of the novel coronavirus in Russia, up from 495 a day before. That marked a significantly bigger daily increase compared to the previous day, when the number of infections increased by several dozen.
The warning to governors came a day after the mayor of Moscow told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Russian regions weren’t acting energetically enough to prepare for the outbreak.
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Here’s what’s happening elsewhere, including hard-hit Iran and South Korea
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 7:50 a.m. ET
Iran plans to ban Iranian New Year travel and traditional gatherings in parks, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, as the coronavirus toll rose to 2,077 in the worst-hit country in the Middle East. The total number of reported cases of coronavirus in Iran has climbed to more than 27,000.
Saudi Arabia expanded its curfew hours in the cities of Mecca and Medina, home to Islam’s holiest sites, as well as the capital, Riyadh. Residents now must remain inside their homes from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. The kingdom also banned travel in or out of the three governorates. Saudi Arabia has reported 676 cases.
South Korea said it plans to provide coronavirus testing materials to the United States in response to President Donald Trump’s request for help. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country is willing to send chemical reagents used to extract genetic material during COVID-19 tests, but at a level that doesn’t affect its own testing capacity.She didn’t provide a detailed estimate on the size of supplies that could be shipped to the United States.
The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier said Trump during a telephone conversation between the leaders asked whether South Korea could send medical equipment and supplies to help the United States cope with its outbreaks. South Korea is pushing an aggressive test-and-quarantine program that some experts say possibly contributed to its lower death toll in comparison with mainland China and hard-hit European nations. As of Wednesday, South Korea had tested around 358,000 people while reporting 9,137 infections and 126 deaths.
Cases across Africa are now well above 2,400. With Mali, Libya and Guinea-Bissau announcing their first, 46 of the continent’s 54 countries now have the virus. The Portuguese news agency Lusa reported the Guinea-Bissau cases, citing the presidency. Zimbabwe has reported three cases of COVID-19 and recorded its first death this week. Neighboring South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped again to 709, its health minister said, as the country with the most cases in Africa prepared to go into lockdown first thing Friday.
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