Parliament was recalled Saturday for a debate on legislation to free up billions of dollars in financial aid for Canadians and businesses to weather the COVID-19 crisis, with the opposition parties agreeing to allow for unanimous consent in order to make it law late in the day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance for the rare weekend sitting, which began around 12:15 p.m. ET, along with a small number of MPs, who were to vote on a revised wage subsidy bill. The Senate will sit starting around 4 p.m. ET.
A draft copy of the bill was shared with the opposition parties last Monday and they have been holding talks with the governing Liberals since then.
Only about 20 MPs will be in the House, enough for a quorum, in order to maintain physical distancing measures. The prime minister will skip his usual, daily media briefing outside his residence in order to join the debate and will instead address Canadians from within the Commons.
He plans to take time off on Sunday and Monday to spend time with family. Trudeau primarily has been working from home since March 12 when his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
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Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam spoke on Saturday about federal guidelines updated this week to better protect people in long-term care homes, describing the recommendations as possibly “one of the key legacies of this particular pandemic.”
She said one key recommendation was that essential volunteers and visitors wear a mask inside those long-term care facilities.
Mother pulls daughter out of care facility
CBC’s Rosemary Barton on Saturday spoke to a woman who pulled her daughter out of a care home for adults with developmental and physical disabilities in Markham, Ont., a facility that’s coping with an outbreak of COVID-19.
“On Tuesday, we got notification that there was a possible outbreak … so we made the decision, our family made the decision, to take Emily out of Participation House,” Laura Meffen said.
Meffen said her daughter has been living at the facility for two years because it was getting more difficult to physically care for her. She said she is now caring for Emily one-on-one, around the clock, and has noticed she has a low fever, which adds to the worry.
On Friday, Participation House said it was in a “state of emergency” after dozens of staff walked away from their jobs, leaving too few to care for the residents, after learning that 10 residents and two staff members at the home had tested positive for COVID-19.
Confirmed infections have reached about 1.7 million worldwide, including more than 100,000 deaths, while the number of cases surpassed half a million in the U.S., according to a Johns Hopkins University count.
The spread of the novel coronavirus, first reported in China in late 2019, continues as Christians around the globe mark the Easter weekend, with church leaders offering services online amid restrictions on gathering in pews.
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On Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau addressed the issue of health-care workers contracting the virus, and the need for hospital workers to have personal protective equipment. He said health workers need to know “that we have their back” and have the support they need. Other health workers have already expressed concern about shortages of the protective gear they need.
The daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage also looked at financial assistance to businesses and the supply of personal protective equipment, but the prime minister also took questions about testing, saying that expanded testing will be a “key part” of the path forward.
After facing calls for more data about what was driving decisions, Canadian federal health officials on Thursday presented modelling information on how the outbreak could unfold.
The models suggest that even with stringent public health measures, Canada could see 4,400 deaths linked to the growing epidemic. That figure — the most optimistic in the models presented — is just one of the projections offered by officials, who stressed that how people behave now will be critical to how the epidemic evolves.
Health officials projected that 11,000 Canadians would die over the course of the pandemic if 2.5 per cent of the population was infected, a number that increased to 22,000 if the infection rate hit five per cent of the population. All the projections are “highly sensitive” to behaviours, Tam said as health officials outlined models with strict measures as well as offering a glimpse into what might have happened without controls.
Public health officials have urged people to stay home, avoid large gatherings and keep up physical distancing, handwashing and other measures.
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On Friday, Trudeau said Canadians should continue to take those preventative measures for a “number of weeks, and then possibly we can, and I hope to be able to, talk about relaxing the current rules in the summer.”
“But even in the fall, we will have to live with certain measures to keep you safe and minimize the risk of a resurgence of COVID-19,” he said, adding that people should not expect a full return to normality until there is a vaccine against the respiratory illness, also known as SARS-CoV-2.
WHO cautions against easing movement restrictions
Elsewhere, as weeks of lockdowns were extended in nation after nation, world governments were pressed to ease restrictions on key businesses and industries.
After a two-week freeze on all non-essential economic activity, Spain decided to allow factories and construction sites to resume work on Monday, while schools, most shops and offices will remain closed. In Italy, the industrial lobbies in regions representing 45 per cent of its economic output urged the government to ease its two-week lockdown on all non-essential manufacturing, saying the country “risks definitively shutting down its own motor, and every day that passes the risk grows not to be able to restart it.”
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that a premature lifting of restrictions could “lead to a deadly resurgence.”
WATCH | WHO warns against lifting restrictions too quickly
He said there had been a “welcome slowing” of the epidemic in some European countries — Italy, Germany, Spain and France — but there had been an “alarming acceleration” elsewhere including community transmission in 16 countries of Africa.
There is no known cure or vaccine for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. While most people who contract the illness will experience mild to moderate symptoms, health officials have cautioned that certain segments of the population, including the elderly and people with pre-existing health issues, face a higher risk of severe disease and death.
The Public Health Agency of Canada, which has been posting updated information about the virus, says that COVID-19 is a “serious health threat.” The agency says that risk varies between communities but notes that the overall risk to Canadians is ” considered high.”
Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada and around the world.
Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories
As of Saturday afternoon, Canada had 23,249 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19. The provinces and territories that provide data on recovered cases listed more than 6,600 as resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths, which is based on public health information and reporting, lists 682 COVID-19-related deaths in Canada, as well as two coronavirus-linked deaths of Canadians abroad.
British Columbia’s top doctor says she doesn’t plan to build out projections around possible COVID-19 death tolls. “Our modelling is about what we need to prepare for,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said. “As you can see, deaths are not something that can be predicted. It depends on how your outbreak evolves.” Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
Alberta reported its highest single-day death toll with seven fatalities. They include four new deaths at the McKenzie Towne continuing care centre in Calgary, bringing that facility’s total to 17.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said new mandatory mask requirements are being put in place for health workers at long-term care sites, and staff at continuing care homes will be prevented from moving from facility to facility starting next week. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
Saskatchewan announced $50 million in funding to help small and medium businesses impacted by the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan, including what the premier has said about whether the Emergencies Act should be used.
In Manitoba, a Winnipeg man in his 70s has died, bringing the province’s number of deaths to four. Additionally, three people linked to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg have tested positive. They are all in self-isolation and Manitoba Health is doing contact tracing, an email obtained by CBC News says. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
The Ontario government on Saturday said it has extended until April 23 all emergency orders in place under a section of the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, declared on March 17, to help slow the spread of infection.
That means the continued closure of amenities in parks and recreational areas, non-essential workplaces, public places and bars and restaurants, along with restrictions on social gatherings and the prohibition of price-gouging. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.
Quebec Premier François Legault said Saturday that 31 residents at a private care home in Dorval have died in the last month. Five of those residents are confirmed to have died of COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
On Friday, Legault said schools in the province could reopen as early as May. He cited the latest numbers on the coronavirus pandemic as evidence that the first wave is stabilizing, though the province continues to have the most confirmed cases in the country.
New Brunswick reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. Public Health said, of the 112 cases previously confirmed, 10 people have been hospitalized and five patients have been discharged. Three of the remaining patients are in an intensive care unit. Read more about a Moncton family with three COVID-19 cases.
Nova Scotia doesn’t plan to lift restrictions in place because of COVID-19 until at least June. Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s top health officer, said the summer “is going to look somewhat different than most summers.” Read more about what’s happening in N.S.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister is warning people that the province’s peak is expected later than other provinces — and says that restrictions could be in place for months to come. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.
The Yukon government is offering financial assistance for eligible businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 and the measures to fight it. Read more about what’s happening across Canada’s North.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the United States
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 2:30 p.m. ET
Health authorities have reported hundreds more cases in New York City and the surrounding region, an area with some 20 million people that accounts for more than half of the 500,000 American cases, which include over 18,500 deaths.
The United States accounts for most of the world’s confirmed cases of COVID-19, the highly contagious lung ailment caused by the novel coronavirus. On Saturday the U.S. recorded more than 19,700 deaths, surpassing Italy in total number of fatalities. Other U.S. hot spots are in Detroit, Louisiana and the national capital, Washington.
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The number of deaths in New York City reached more than 8,620 on Saturday, with the state recording 783 more fatalities overnight. Officials said the number of people in intensive care dropped for the first time on Friday since mid-March and hospitalizations were slowing: 290 new patients in a single day, compared with daily increases of more than 1,000 last week.
South Florida has become one of the new hot spots in the United States with confirmed cases exceeding 17,448 and the death toll reaching 419 as of Friday.
Social distancing is a problem in the state, say local officials, especially in south Florida, where people were lined up attempting to apply for unemployment benefits in person earlier in the week after the state’s website was overwhelmed.
New U.S. government figures show novel coronavirus infections will spike during the summer if stay-at-home orders are lifted after 30 days as planned, the New York Times reported on Friday. It cited separate forecasts from the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services projecting the death toll could reach 200,000 if stay-at-home orders are lifted.
In New York City, officials have shortened the amount of time unclaimed remains will be held before they are buried in the city’s public cemetery, as the city struggles to deal with a mounting death toll and dwindling morgue space.
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Under the new policy, the medical examiner’s office will keep bodies in storage for just 14 days before they’re buried in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island.
Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 7:00 a.m. ET
Iran began reopening government offices Saturday after a brief nationwide lockdown to help contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, which has killed more than 4,300 people in the country out of 68,000 total cases.
Authorities had ordered most government agencies and all non-essential businesses to remain closed for a week after the Nowruz holiday ended on Apr. 4.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested mass gatherings may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which runs from late April through most of May.
There are more than 134,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Middle East, including over 5,300 fatalities.
South Korea announced plans Saturday to strap tracking wristbands on people who defy quarantine orders. Officials there say stricter controls are required because some of the 57,000 people who are under orders to stay home have slipped out by leaving behind smartphones with tracking apps. Plans for broader use of wristbands were scaled back after objections by human rights and legal activists.
The World Health Organization said on Saturday that it was looking into reports of some COVID-19 patients in South Korea were testing positive again after initially testing negative for the disease.
South Korean officials on Friday reported 91 patients thought cleared of the novel coronavirus had tested positive again. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told a briefing that the virus may have been “reactivated” rather than the patients being re-infected.
Britain’s health secretary on Saturday reiterated appeals to health-care workers not to overuse personal protective equipment, urging everyone to treat PPE as a “precious resource.” Matt Hancock’s comment came after he recently faced backlash from health-care workers who say they do not have enough PPE when treating patients with COVID-19.
On Saturday, Britain reported 9,875 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, the fifth highest national number globally. It was the second day running that the number to die had increased by more than 900.
Almost 80,000 people in Britain have tested positive for the virus, among them Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is in the early stages of recovery on a hospital ward after spending three nights in intensive care.
“The prime minister continues to make very good progress,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
Italian authorities are using helicopters, drones and stepped-up police checks to make sure Italians don’t slip out of their homes for the Easter holiday weekend. The virus has killed more than 18,800 people in Italy and over 95,000 worldwide, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
The coronavirus has claimed at least 15,843 lives in Spain and has officially infected 152,446 people, although both the rate of contagion and mortality are dropping, official health ministry data showed Friday. The 605 new deaths recorded overnight were the lowest increase since March 24.
There were encouraging signs in France, where the national health agency saw indications the crisis is stabilizing, though more than 13,000 lives have been lost. The health ministry said 7,004 people were in intensive care, a fall of 62 or 0.9 per cent following a one per cent fall on Thursday.
A WHO official on Saturday urged Belarus to impose new measures to contain the new coronavirus, out of concern that the outbreak in the country has entered a worrying new phase. President Alexander Lukashenko, who has held power in the former Soviet nation of 9.5 million people since 1994, has downplayed the need for physical distancing and other measures to stem the spread of the virus. Belarus has so far recorded 2,226 cases and 23 coronavirus-related deaths.
India’s 21-day nationwide lockdown was supposed to end on Tuesday, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to extend it to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, the Delhi state’s chief minister said on Saturday, without saying how long the extension would be for.
In Kazakhstan, 10 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at one of the worker camps located next to the giant Tengiz oilfield, Kazakh authorities said on Saturday. The Chevron-led consortium operating Tengiz, the Central Asian nation’s No.1 oil producer, was not immediately available for comment on Saturday.
Turkey announced a two-day lockdown in Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities as the country’s death toll rose above 1,000. The move, which covers 31 provinces, scales up restrictions under which people below the age of 20 and senior citizens have been told to stay at home.
Yemen reported its first case on Friday, as aid groups try to prepare for an outbreak where war has shattered the health system and spread hunger and disease.
China’s Wuhan city, where the pandemic began, is still testing residents regularly despite relaxing its tough two-month lockdown, with the country wary of a rebound as it sets its sights on normalizing the economy.
The total number of novel coronavirus infections in Japan hit 6,003 on Friday, public broadcaster NHK reported.
All Botswana’s parliamentarians, including the president, will be quarantined for two weeks and tested, after a health worker screening lawmakers for the virus tested positive.
In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, people desperate for food stampeded, pushing through a gate at a district office in the Kibera slum. Police fired tear gas, injuring several people.
The epidemic has so far infected over 440 people in Burkina Faso, including six government ministers, and killed 24.
WATCH | WHO raises concern about coronavirus escalation in Africa
Chile will start handing out certificates to people who have recovered that will exempt them from adhering to quarantines or other restrictions.
Mexico has recorded its first two deaths of pregnant women from the coronavirus as the reported death toll reached 194, the health ministry said
Brazil’s Health Ministry says a teenager from an Indigenous tribe has died of coronavirus, marking the first resident of an Indigenous community to die from COVID-19 and raising alarm about the spread of the virus in the country’s protected lands. Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro took to the streets of Brasilia on Friday, drawing crowds and greeting followers in his latest public pushback against social isolation measures.