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

The latest:

  • Border no longer open for routine, casual traffic between Canada and U.S.
  • Canadians stuck in Peru in limbo on getting help to leave the country.
  • Flight bringing Canadians home from Morocco is expected to land in Montreal.
  • Cruise ship approaches Genoa, Italy amid virus fears.
  • Cyprus turns away migrant boat.
  • Governors of Illinois, New York and California order people to stay home.
  • Starbucks to close stores, move to drive-thru and delivery.
  • Why it’s so difficult to get tested in Canada.

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.

An Air Canada flight bringing a group of Canadians home from Morocco amid the global coronavirus pandemic is expected to land in Montreal on Saturday. The repatriation flight, arranged with the help of the federal government, is due to depart from Casablanca at 1:50 p.m. ET, or 6:50 p.m. local time.

WATCH | ‘A lot of stuff is by chance,’ says Canadian trying to get out of Morocco:

Despite a stressful few days trying to leave Morocco, Canadian Keenan Orrange is grateful for the help he has received and expects to be back in Canada soon. 4:37

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 — 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.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, addressing the nation on Saturday, acknowledged the agreement with Air Canada to bring passengers from Morocco and said his government will be working with other 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.”

The number of confirmed cases of the respiratory illness in Canada has increased to 1,146, with the additional cases reported in Ontario on Saturday. There were 214 new cases on Friday, the most in one day in Canada since the pandemic was declared on March 11.

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

Worldwide, more than 274,800 people have been infected and 11,389 have died, according to a Reuters tally. 

In the United States, Connecticut, Illinois and New York have joined California in ordering non-essential workers to remain at home to slow the spread of the virus, which has claimed more than 200 lives in the U.S.

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.”

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.

WATCH | Montreal hospitals launch global challenge to design new ventilator:

Two hospitals in Montreal are offering a $200,000 prize to design a new low-cost and easy-to-use ventilator to help with the COVID-19 outbreak.  7:58

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.

Italy, with its 60 million citizens, increased its death toll by 627 on Friday, to 4,032 lives lost to the virus. It is the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged in the country a month ago. On Thursday, Italy’s death toll surpassed that of China, a country with a population more than 20 times larger and where the outbreak first began.

WATCH | New York City’s empty streets:

The CBC’s Steven D’Souza shows how New York City’s once-bustling streets have quietened amid the coronavirus pandemic 2:08

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.

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.

WATCH | More young people testing positive for coronavirus:

While seniors have been widely reported as the age group most vulnerable to the coronavirus, there have been a rising number of people under 65 falling ill. 2:06

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.

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

British Columbia announced 77 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 348. At the same time, the City of Vancouver said all playgrounds will shut down and all restaurants must stop any dine-in services by the end of Friday or face prosecution, as part of a host of new policies unveiled a day after the province declared a state of emergency. “The changes being announced today are major. They mean … many, many people will be laid off,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Ontario’s latest confirmed case is in Windsor, a man in his 60s who is self-isolating at home with mild symptoms after returning home from a Caribbean cruise on March 10, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the chief medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex said on Saturday. “He did all the things right,” Ahmed said of the city’s first known case of COVID-19. The province reported 59 new cases on Saturday, bringing the provincial total to 377, with two deaths.

Health Minister Christine Elliott — who has faced increased questions over test availability, wait times for testing and hospital capacity — said Thursday the province has added more telehealth lines and is working on improving lab testing. Read more about the call for social distancing in Ontario.

Alberta’s credit rating was downgraded after a global credit agency said its budget is ‘no longer valid,’ and the province hasn’t done enough to respond to economic pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic. The day before, the province’s top doctor urged people to take the risks from COVID-19 seriously as the province reported its first death. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that an Edmonton man in his 60s died late Wednesday. The province is doing “all we can to fight the spread of the virus,” Hinshaw said. “But to do this, we will need everyone’s help.” Read more about what’s happening in Alberta, including information about how Alberta Health Services handled the case of a doctor who tested positive for COVID-19.

Police in the Quebec capital have arrested a COVID-19 patient who defied quarantine orders. The person was arrested while out for a stroll in Quebec City’s Limoilou neighbourhood. As the province tries to clamp down on COVID-19, some hotels are preparing to step up in case they are needed to house non-infected hospital patients to make space in the province’s health facilities. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

Saskatchewan announced it will use daycare facilities inside schools to provide care for the children of health-care workers and other “essential” workers. The province, which as of Friday afternoon was reporting 26 confirmed and presumptive cases, has banned public gatherings of more than 50 people. But the chief medical officer of health wants people to avoid groups of more than five. The City of Regina declared its own state of emergency on Friday, while restaurants and bars in the province are being closed for dine-in service, and are now limited to pickup and delivery. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

Manitoba declared a state of emergency Friday to respond to the pandemic. The province, like many others, said Thursday it is reviewing its inventory of critical supplies like protective gear for health-care workers and ventilators. More ventilators are on the way, officials said, and while the supply of protective gear is solid for now, the province has said it will buy more. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba, which delivered a budget Thursday amid economic turmoil linked to the pandemic.

Staff are seen preparing food at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank in Burnaby, B.C., on Wednesday. The federal government has promised funding for people who are out of work, but there’s still concern about how many families impacted by the coronavirus will make ends meet amid economic turmoil. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

In New Brunswick, no new cases were announced for the second day in a row, a day after the province declared a state of emergency. Still, chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said two days in a row without any new cases “doesn’t mean a whole lot” due to the incubation period of the virus. Russell said she expects to see more cases in the coming days, noting returning travellers may not be exhibiting any symptoms yet. On the same day, Premier Blaine Higgs said the provincial budget is already obsolete due to COVID-19’s economic fallout. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Health officials in Nova Scotia reported one new presumptive COVID-19 case on Friday. The new case comes after the province said it is allocating $1 million to help the province’s food banks amid growing economic damage caused by COVID-19. The province, which banned evictions of vulnerable people during the crisis, has said more supports will be rolled out in the days ahead. Alcohol sales in the province have soared amid panic buying, while those working in addiction services are planning ahead in case of liquor store closures. They are concerned those going through alcohol withdrawal will end up in hospital, draining health-care resources away from the pandemic. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.

The top doctor in P.E.I. is urging people to respect self-isolation and social distancing protocols, saying the province wants to avoid the stark situations seen in places like Italy. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister said Friday designated COVID-19 test sites are coming — but will be by appointment only. The news comes after a top education official in Newfoundland and Labrador says all students between kindergarten and Grade 9 will pass to the next grade, “no matter what time we get back.” Tony Stack, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said the plan for high school students is not yet finalized. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

The Northwest Territories chief public health officer plans to ban most travel into the territory in an effort to stall the arrival of the novel coronavirus. There are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Canada’s North, but the territory has declared a state of emergency in a bid to protect its elders. Yukon is setting up a respiratory assessment centre.

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

  • British Columbia: 348 confirmed cases, including five recovered and eight deaths.
  • Ontario: 377 confirmed cases, including six recovered and two deaths.
  • Alberta: 195 confirmed cases, including three recovered and one death.
  • Quebec: 139 confirmed cases, including one recovered and one death.
  • Saskatchewan: 26 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Manitoba: 17 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • New Brunswick: 11 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Nova Scotia: 15 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Prince Edward Island: Two cases the province lists as positive.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Four confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Repatriated Canadians: 12 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 11:00 a.m. ET

New Jersey’s governor was expected on Saturday to follow four other states — California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut — in demanding that millions of Americans close up shop and stay home. Oregon is reported to be preparing to do the same.

Vehicles cross the Peace Bridge into Canada on March 18 in Buffalo N.Y. The Canada-U.S. border is closed to non-essential traffic in both directions as efforts across the continent to contain the widening COVID-19 pandemic continued to upend daily life in North America. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press)

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 Governor 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. He acted after California all but confined its 40 million residents to their homes.

U.S. aid package would be worth over $2 trillion

The coronavirus stimulus package being negotiated by the U.S. Senate would be worth more than $2 trillion US, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said on Saturday.
“The package is coming in at about 10 percent of GDP,” Kudlow told reporters. Asked if that amounted to more than $2 trillion, Kudlow said: “That’s correct.”

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Friday that the U.S. tax filing day will be extended from April 15 to July 15.  He encouraged all taxpayers who may have refunds to file now.

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 7:00 a.m. ET

Italy has imposed further restrictions on public life. The government has announced all parks, public gardens and playgrounds will be closed in Italy starting Saturday for at least five days. The death toll in Italy leapt by 627 to 4,032 on Friday, an increase of 18.4 per cent, by far the largest daily rise in absolute terms since the contagion emerged a month ago. 

Spain said it plans to turn a Madrid conference centre into a giant military hospital, as Europe’s second-worst outbreak claimed another 235 lives.

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. 

Germany may enforce a nationwide curfew if the country’s 83 million people fail to keep their distance from each other this weekend.

Finland on Saturday confirmed its first death from COVID-19 out of more than 520 cases. Across Europe, there have been more than 100,000 cases and nearly 6,000 deaths.

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)

The U.K. government says it’s shipping large supplies of protective equipment to hospitals. Britain lags behind Italy, Spain and France in the spread of the new coronavirus, but already the country’s overstretched health system is creaking.

WATCH | U.K. pubs last call before indefinite shutdown:

U.K. government orders closure of pubs, restaurants and other gathering places to combat COVID-19 1:10

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

Here’s what’s happening in Asia

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 7:30 a.m. ET

Indonesia’s total of cases rose to 450, with 38 deaths, a health ministry official said on Saturday. This comes a day after the governor of Jakarta declared a state of emergency in the Indonesian capital for the next two weeks.

Malaysia’s cases jumped to 1,183 on Saturday with four deaths, and the government warned of more cases next week as it looks for people who attended a mass religious gathering linked to a majority of the cases. Malaysia will mobilize its army, starting Sunday, to help enforce curbs on movement.

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.

All 41 of the new confirmed cases in China were imported from overseas, the country’s National Health Commission said on Saturday.

In Taiwan, the government has taken multiple steps to ensure safety essentials make it to consumers, including putting weekly limits per citizen on safety mask purchases and rationing the amount of cleaning supplies consumers can buy. 

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.

Indian passengers wearing face masks as a precaution against COVID-19 arrive at Secunderabad Railway Station in Hyderabad, India on Saturday. (Mahesh Kumar A./The 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.
  • Loblaw Companies Ltd. on Saturday said it has started to install plexiglass shields for the checkout counters in its grocery stores, following Sobeys‘ lead in implementing the safety precaution.
  •  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.

  • Saudi Arabia, which has announced a $31.93 billion US support package, has suspended all domestic flights, buses, taxis and trains for 14 days starting Saturday.

  • South Africa announced coronavirus cases jumped to 202, the most in the sub-Saharan region, and the country’s largest airport announced that foreigners would not be allowed to disembark. Another African nation announced its first case, Cape Verde. Thirty-seven countries on the continent now have cases, with a total now well above 800.

  • Brazil is the hardest-hit country in Latin America, with confirmed cases jumping by over 280 on Friday to 904, with 11 deaths total. Several countries in Latin America are among the least prepared in the world for a pandemic, with health-care systems already stretched thin. Peruvian Minister of Defence Walter Martos previously told local America TV that the nation has less than 400 respirators available. “It’s not a lot,” he said. “Really, we don’t have the infrastructure that developed nations do.”

  • 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.

  • Starting Tuesday, Cuba will stop allowing foreigners to enter the island, with the exception of residents. President Miguel Diaz-Canel made the announcement on state television late on Friday, saying that the order would stay in place for 30 days. As of Friday, the island nation had announced 16 cases of COVID-19 and one death, all in people who had traveled overseas or been in direct contact with a traveller. 

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