Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about the struggles of Canadians abroad and the need to step up testing for COVID-19 on Thursday, a day after announcing an $82-billion COVID-19 response package that includes measures ranging from wage subsidies and income supports to a temporary boost to the child benefit program.
Canada has more than 800 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, an illness caused by the novel coronavirus that first emerged in China. The number of cases has been increasing daily, sparking concern about the capacity of Canada’s health-care systems and prompting provinces to cancel classes, call for the closure of some businesses and introduce rules to promote social distancing.
The federal government is suspending passport services except in the cases of urgent travel; such as serious illness, the death of a friend or family member, humanitarian work or in the event the person would otherwise lose a job or business. Service Canada says anyone who does not meet the criteria for urgent travel — or is experiencing symptoms such as a fever, coughing, having trouble breathing — will have to wait.
Canada’s top doctor told reporters Thursday that officials are concerned about the increase of cases in Ontario, particularly three cases being investigated as coming from community transmission.
Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public officer of health, said there are also a number of cases in several provinces connected to a large dental conference that took place in Vancouver.
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New Brunswick on Thursday joined the long list of provinces that have declared a public health emergency.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has said that almost 54,000 tests have been performed to date. Speaking outside Rideau Cottage on Thursday, Trudeau acknowledged the need for test kits is growing.
“While we ramp up, we’re making sure Canada is ready to keep up,” Trudeau said of test kits. The prime minister — who is still in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for COVID-19 — said the health minister and deputy prime minister would work with provinces and territories to make sure they have what they need, though he didn’t offer details or a timeline for how testing capacity would be increased.
The prime minister also urged Canadians to donate blood, saying people who are able to should book an appointment.
Trudeau’s message largely focused on measures the government had already announced, including support for parents and funding to help research into potential vaccines and treatments.
On Wednesday, Trudeau announced a joint deal with the U.S. to close the border to non-essential travel, a move meant to clamp down on COVID-19 while still allowing the flow of critical supplies between the two countries. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Mexican counterpart about doing the same on the southern border.
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Finance Minister Bill Morneau told CBC News Network that Canadians who are not covered by the unemployment system can expect emergency funding in two to three weeks, though he said not all funding will be released at the same time.
He said the government is working “every day” to see if there are ways to release the money faster.
“We’re working on multiple fronts at the same time,” he said Thursday, calling the economic turmoil around the pandemic an “unprecedented” situation.
Canada and the U.S. aren’t the only nations clamping down on border crossings. As the world responds to the pandemic, countries are introducing a range of measures to try and slow the spread of the virus.
Hard-hit Italy is still on lockdown as it scrambles to slow cases and properly treat the infected. Australia and New Zealand recently announced broad border restrictions. And China, where the virus was first reported, said that even though it is making headway against the virus, it’s not yet in the clear.
The Queen, meanwhile, sent a message of support to people around the world, calling this “a period of great concern and uncertainty.” In the statement, she thanked health-care professionals and scientists and said everyone has a role to play.
“At times such as these, I am reminded that our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one, concentrating our combined efforts with a focus on the common goal.”
The risk of new coronavirus cases occurring in China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, has not been eliminated and infection risk still persists at community and clinic levels, a government official said Thursday.
For most of those people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. The vast majority of people recover from the virus, but some people who are infected — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — are at higher risk of facing a more severe illness, including pneumonia.
According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
As the worldwide death toll crept toward 10,000 and the number of infections topped 220,000 (including nearly 85,000 people who have recovered), officials around the world urged people to come together, while staying physically apart.
“When you love someone, you should avoid taking them in your arms,” French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said in parliament. “It’s counterintuitive and it’s painful; the psychological consequences, the way we are living, are very disturbing — but it’s what we must do.”
Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories
British Columbia on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, a move that allows the province to do things like secure supply chains. The province had already declared a public health emergency, but Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the state of emergency is part of an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to tackling the novel coronavirus. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
In Alberta, the premier says social distancing measures will likely be needed until the end of May, saying the “velocity” of the virus’s spread around the world suggests “we can expect this to pose a very real threat to public safety for at least two or three months.” Read more about what’s happening in Alberta, including the latest from the province’s chief medical officer of health.
Saskatchewan also declared a state of emergency to tackle COVID-19, and the province’s top public health official is urging people to take social distancing seriously. The province announced four new cases Thursday. It banned public gatherings of more than 50 people, said restaurants and bars need to keep half their seats empty, and said businesses that are allowed to remain open — including grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations — must have processes that maintain “one-to-two-metre” separation. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
Manitoba will create a new 30-bed hospital isolation ward. The province has 17 confirmed or presumed cases of COVID-19, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said Thursday morning. One patient is in hospital in stable condition and there have been no known cases of community transmission yet in Manitoba. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba here.
Ontario, which has the most cases of any province, reported a second COVID-19-related death on Thursday. The province has said it is working to improve and step up testing and improve telehealth services after complaints about wait times. In Toronto, officials announced that a TTC mechanic had tested positive for the virus, though the transit agency noted the individual was not a front-line worker. In Ottawa, 14 people, including Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, have tested positive for COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario here.
Quebec announced its first COVID-19-related death on Wednesday. The province’s director of public health said it was an elderly woman in the Lanaudière region who had been in contact with a person who had travelled. Though the woman had been in contact with someone who went abroad, Dr. Horacio Arruda said that doesn’t mean there is broader community transmission. “We’re not there yet,” Arruda said, noting that just because case numbers rise, “that doesn’t mean we’re losing the battle.” Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
New Brunswick declared a state of emergency Thursday. The government called the actions “unprecedented” and said the declaration was necessary because too many people are still not following the advice of public health officials. The declaration comes as the number of confirmed cases in the province has jumped to seven and the number of probable cases stands at four. Read more about what’s happening in New Brunswick here.
Nova Scotia hospitals are strictly limiting visitors, with the provincial health authority saying “multiple people waiting in hallways, family rooms or waiting rooms is not acceptable given requirements to social distance.” There are some exceptions, including around end-of-life care, pediatric patients and women in labour, the health authority said. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia here, including detail on more business closures.
P.E.I., which reported a second case on Thursday, has asked non-essential businesses to close as part of its plan to fight COVID-19. Things like grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, hardware stores and car repair locations can stay open, the premier said. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I. here.
Newfoundland and Labrador has declared a public health emergency and ordered several types of businesses — including gyms, movie theatres, arenas and bars — to close. The province is refusing to provide information about where the three presumptive cases of the virus are located in order to stop individuals who have it from being identified, Health Minister John Haggie told CBC Thursday. The province’s liquor stores are set to close to the general public on Saturday. Read more about what’s happening in N.L. here.
There were no confirmed cases in any of the territories as of Wednesday, but officials were still taking action. Nunavut declared a state of public health emergency, as did the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
As of 6 p.m.. ET, there were 873 presumptive and confirmed cases in Canada, with 12 deaths and 11 listed as recovered.
- Ontario: 258 confirmed cases, including five recovered and two deaths.
- British Columbia: 271 confirmed cases, including five recovered and eight deaths.
- Alberta: 146 confirmed cases, including one death.
- Quebec: 121 confirmed cases, including one recovered and one death.
- Saskatchewan: 20 confirmed and presumptive cases.
- New Brunswick: Seven confirmed and four presumptive cases.
- Nova Scotia: Five confirmed and nine presumptive cases.
- Manitoba: 17 confirmed and presumptive cases.
- Prince Edward Island: Two cases the province lists as positive.
- Newfoundland and Labrador: One confirmed and two presumptive cases.
- Repatriated Canadians: 10 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.
Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.
From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 6:30 p.m. ET.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday called on U.S. health regulators to expedite potential therapies aimed at treating COVID-19 amid the fast-spreading outbreak.
Trump, speaking at a news conference, pointed to efforts around an experimental antiviral drug, Remdesivir, and the generic anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, saying he had called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to streamline its regulatory approval process.
“We have to remove every barrier,” Trump said.
Trials on potential coronavirus therapies are already in the works, and it was unclear how Trump’s call for faster experimental testing process could further expedite an effective treatment for the virus, which as yet has no proven vaccine or cure.
Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration, said the coronavirus vaccine that is currently in a clinical trial in the United States will take at least 12 months to be approved.
At the same time, the State Department issued a new alert, urging Americans not to travel abroad under any circumstances and to return home if they are already abroad unless they plan to remain overseas. And the White House announced Trump will cancel an in-person meeting of G7 leaders at Camp David in June and will hold a videoconference instead.
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Trump also said Carnival Cruise Lines has offered to station cruise ships at U.S. ports as floating hospitals, should the need arise.
Earlier Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged Congress to move quickly to pass a massive $1 trillion US economic relief measure by early next week, saying he expects bipartisan support for the bill to get cash payments to Americans. Trump signed an aid package — which the Senate approved earlier Wednesday — that will guarantee sick leave for workers who fall ill.
The president this week also tapped his authority under the 70-year-old Defence Production Act to give the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.
Yet he seemed to minimize the urgency of the decision, later tweeting that he “only signed the Defence Production Act to combat the [virus] should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future.”
“Hopefully there will be no need,” he added, “but we are all in this TOGETHER!”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control as of Wednesday was reporting 7,038 cases and 97 deaths, but those figures are updated once daily and lag some other tallies — including a Johns Hopkins University tracker that puts the U.S. figure at 9,415 cases, with more than 150 dead and more than 100 recovered.
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The mixed messaging came as Trump took a series of other extraordinary steps to steady the nation, its day-to-day life suddenly and fundamentally altered.
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Trump said he will expand the nation’s diagnostic testing capacity and deploy a U.S. navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicentre of the pandemic, and another such ship to the West Coast. The Housing and Urban Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions through April to help the growing number of Americans who face losing jobs and missing rent and mortgage payments.
The administration announcements came on a fast-moving day of developments across the capital, its empty streets standing in contrast to the whirlwind of activity inside the grand spaces of the White House and the Capitol.
The U.S. military said Thursday it is pausing the movement of any new troops into Afghanistan and is quarantining 1,500 troops and civilians who recently arrived in order to protect them from the new coronavirus. Troops who are already in the country may have their deployments extended so missions can continue.
Here’s what’s happening in Europe
From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Italy’s death toll surpassed China’s on Thursday, in a stark illustration of how the outbreak has pivoted toward Europe and the United States. With a population of 60 million, Italy has recorded at least 3,405 deaths as of Thursday, or roughly 150 more than in China — a country with a population over 20 times larger. Also on Thursday, a northern Italian town whose cemetery has been overwhelmed began loading bodies into trucks to move them to neighbouring provinces.
Italy reached its bleak milestone the same day that Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged three months ago, recorded no new infections — a sign that the communist country’s draconian lockdowns were a powerful method to stop the virus’ spread.
The United Nations and Italian health authorities have cited a variety of reasons for Italy’s high toll, key among them its large elderly population, who are particularly susceptible to developing serious complications from the virus. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population after Japan’s and the vast majority of Italy’s dead — 87 per cent — were over age 70.
In addition, virtually all of Italy’s dead had one or more underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension or renal insufficiency. Italy still has far fewer confirmed cases than China — 41,035 as of Thursday, compared to more than 80,900 in China.
Schools in Italy are likely to remain closed beyond April 3, Italy’s education minister said on Thursday. “As Prime Minister [Giuseppe] Conte said, I think we are going toward an extension of the April 3 deadline,” Lucia Azzolina told SkyTG24. Schools and universities were closed on March 5.
As of late Wednesday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported almost 71,000 cases, with 3,309 deaths.
The palace of Monaco says its ruler, Prince Albert II, has tested positive for COVID-19 but that his health is not worrying. Albert, 62, appeared to be the first head of state who has publicly said he contracted the virus. In a statement Thursday, the palace said he is being treated by doctors from the Princess Grace Hospital, named after his American actress mother.
France’s Cannes Film Festival has been postponed, following weeks of speculation over whether it would go ahead. Meanwhile, the Costa Luminosa transatlantic cruise ship, which has recorded several cases of COVID-19 among its passengers, has docked in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille on Thursday morning. More than 1,400 people, including more than 75 Canadians, are on the cruise. French authorities have allowed the ship to dock and stay up to four days under strict conditions. It is not known whether passengers will be allowed off, given the current stringent restrictions in France amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In Sweden, more than 1,000 laid-off SAS airline workers are being offered fast-track health-care training to help fight the coronavirus. Sophiahemmet University will run a three-day pilot for 30 people at the end of March with the hope of eventually extending the course to hundreds more.
Europe is scrambling to slow the spread of the virus, with countries introducing a range of measures including tighter border controls, school and business closures and plans designed to boost ailing economies.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’s confident the U.K. “can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks,” and that Britain is in talks to buy a coronavirus antibody test “as simple as a pregnancy test.” The British government previously announced it plans to introduce a bill in Parliament later Thursday that will give authorities stronger powers to respond to the pandemic. The bill gives police and immigration officers powers to detain people and put them in appropriate isolation facilities if necessary to protect public health.
The Bank of England also slashed its key interest rate to 0.1 per cent — its lowest-ever level — amid global economic turmoil sparked by the pandemic. The bank’s monetary policy committee says the unanimous decision is part of moves “to meet the needs of U.K. businesses and households in dealing with the associated economic disruption.” Thursday’s rate cut came a week after the central bank cut its rate from 0.75 per cent to 0.25 per cent.
At least 137 people have died from 2,689 confirmed cases of the virus so far in the U.K.
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Here’s what’s happening in Asia
From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, updated at 8 p.m. ET.
The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at more than 80,900 on Friday, with the overall death toll at 3,248 as of the end of Friday morning. In Hubei province, there were no new cases reported but two new deaths, down from eight Thursday.
South Korea saw more than 150 new cases on Wednesday, Yonhap reported, saying most were in Daegu and Seoul. President Moon Jae-in pledged $39 billion US in emergency financing for small businesses and other stimulus measures on Thursday to prop up the coronavirus-hit economy.
Cases are also ticking upward in Japan, which had reported 936 cases as of Thursday evening local time, not including the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise passengers.
In Taiwan, officials said they would ban most foreigners as cases there rose by 23 to 100 on Wednesday, with most of them imported. In Indonesia, the president said the country needs to immediately widen its testing for coronavirus to ensure detection of more infections. On Wednesday, the Southeast Asian nation saw its biggest daily jump of 55 infections, for a total of 227 cases.
Here’s a look at some other COVID-19 developments
- Stock markets were more subdued Thursday after days of significant swings amid the economic turmoil caused by the novel coronavirus, as well as plummeting oil prices. Read more about what’s happening in the business world.
- Via Rail announced significant reductions in service but extended its cancellation policy through the end of May.
- Canada’s big banks said Tuesday that they would work with borrowers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. TD Bank said in a news release the big six banks would “provide financial relief to Canadians impacted by the economic consequences of COVID-19.” Read more about what the big banks are planning.
- The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is urging people to watch out for coronavirus-related scams and to think twice before sharing personal information. Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP analyst with the anti-fraud centre, says fraudsters are “quick to pick up on world news.” Read more about what to watch out for.
- Theatres are closed, concerts are cancelled, but for some artists, that doesn’t mean performances won’t happen. Singers like Pink, John Legend and Chris Martin are streaming concerts for people practising social distancing or living under quarantine. Canadian artists were also stepping up, with funding help from the National Arts Centre. Read more about what’s happening in the world of entertainment.
- Colombia barred all international passenger flights into the country on Thursday. President Iván Duque announced the decision on Twitter, saying that no such flights would be allowed to land starting March 23, lasting for 30 days.
- More countries in Africa closed their borders Thursday as the local spread of coronavirus threatened to turn the continent of 1.3 billion people into an alarming new front for the pandemic. “About 10 days ago, we had about five countries” with the virus, WHO’s Africa chief, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters. Now, 34 of Africa’s 54 countries have cases, with the total close to 650. It’s an “extremely rapid evolution,” she said. In fact, the first sub-Saharan Africa case was announced Feb. 28.
- In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei planned to pardon 10,000 more prisoners — among them an unknown number of political detainees — to combat the coronavirus. The country, where more than 1,200 people have reportedly died from the virus, has already released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave.
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