Provinces across Canada are reconciling with how to limit the spread of spiking COVID-19 infections among communities while also trying to keep the economy functioning and open to deter further economic downturns.
Infectious disease experts say Canadian health authorities must tighten restrictions again or hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 will increase exponentially in the coming weeks.
As of 5 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 147,753 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 127,788 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,285.
Echoing comments made Tuesday by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who said Canada is at a crossroads in its pandemic battle, experts in public health are urging governments to take decisive action to prevent the current resurgence of the virus from spiralling out of control.
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Ontario wants to avoid imposing lockdown-style measures to combat a second wave of COVID-19, but is prepared to take ‘targeted action” such as closing certain higher-risk businesses, CBC News has learned.
CBC News obtained a copy of Ontario’s fall pandemic preparedness plan, still in draft form, even as Premier Doug Ford’s government is in the midst of announcing some of its elements.
The 21-page draft, provided by a government source this week, acknowledges the recent upsurge in new COVID-19 cases and lays out three possible scenarios of what the second wave could look like: small, moderate or large.
This comes as Toronto Mayor John Tory says officials are looking at specific actions that the city could take to slow the spread of COVID-19.
At a city hall news briefing on Wednesday, Tory said officials have pinpointed four “areas for action” and these areas are being monitored closely because they are places where the novel coronavirus seems to be spreading.
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Tory said the city is working with provincial and federal officials and Toronto Public Health (TPH) staff to determine how best to proceed amid a resurgence of the virus. TPH and provincial officials are investigating the four areas, he added.
One action the province is taking is to begin offering COVID-19 testing in pharmacies on Friday, starting with up to 60 pharmacies around the province, the premier says.
The testing will be available by appointment only, for those not experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, and is expected to roll out to further locations in the coming weeks, the province says.
However, of the 13 pharmacies contacted, seven said they won’t be ready to test by Friday because they don’t yet have the necessary supplies or training, while they others said they don’t yet know.
On a federal level, the Liberal government says it will extend emergency support for Canadians hit by the COVID-19 crisis. It also said it plans to impose criminal penalties for those who neglect vulnerable, elderly Canadians after the pandemic exposed shocking gaps in some long-term care facilities.
It is promising to expand supports for struggling businesses and to extend the wage subsidy program until next summer. That program, which aims to keep employees on the payroll to ensure a smooth post-pandemic economic transition, covers 75 per cent of employee wages for the initial claim period — up to $847 a week — before being gradually reduced in subsequent claim periods.
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The wage subsidy extension is part of the government’s vow to create a million jobs, which would restore employment to pre-pandemic levels. It is also promising to “scale up” its strategy to help young people gain skills and find jobs.
“The economic impact of COVID-19 on Canadians has already been worse than the 2008 financial crisis. These consequences will not be short-lived,” said Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, reading from the speech in the Senate Chamber.
What’s happening in the rest of Canada
Nova Scotia is working to implement the COVID-19 swish, gargle and spit test recently introduced for school-aged children in British Columbia, but right now there aren’t enough cases to confirm the testing method.
“To really validate a test, you have to have people who have the virus, so that we can compare gargles to our standard testing,” said Dr. Todd Hatchette, the chief of service for microbiology in the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s central zone.
“Nova Scotia has done such a tremendous job at flattening the curve, that we don’t really have positive tests at the moment that will allow us to do that.”
Hatchette said the health authority is working with colleagues in B.C. to get specimens in order to corroborate the gargle test in Nova Scotia.
COVID-19 could have been carried to Quebec by as few as 247 people coming home from travelling, according to a genome sequencing study conducted by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) and the McGill Genome Centre.
The study looked at the genome sequences of 734 COVID-19 samples in Quebec between mid-February and April 1 and compared them to over 21,000 other samples elsewhere in the world.
In Quebec, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was traced back to as early as Feb. 25, according to the study, but it and other early cases were well contained, and did not lead to sustained transmission.
“It was a trickle at first,”said Jesse Shapiro, a professor in the department for human genetics and head of genome sciences at McGill, noting that it was easier to manage the few cases of COVID-19 in the province at that time.
What’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 31.9 million. More than 977,100 people have died, while over 21.9 million have recovered.
Swiss health authorities have ordered a quarantine for 2,500 students at a prestigious hospitality management school in the city of Lausanne after “significant outbreaks” of COVID-19 that are a suspected by-product of off-campus partying.
Authorities in Switzerland’s Vaud canton, or region, said all undergraduates at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, known as the Lausanne Hospitality Management University in English, have been ordered to quarantine both on- and off-campus because the number of outbreaks “made a more targeted closure impossible.”
India reported another 86,508 new coronavirus cases, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees little merit in imposing even short local lockdowns.
India now has confirmed more than 5.7 million cases, the second-most in the world. The country’s health ministry also said Thursday that 1,129 more people have died, for a total of 91,149.
Foreigners holding certain types of visas and residence permits will be permitted to return to China starting next week as the threat of coronavirus continues to recede.
The new regulation lifts a months-long blanket suspension covering most foreigners apart from diplomats and those in special circumstances.